When a village takes control of its future
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Guechot, Martin Hoth. 1988. When a village takes control of its future. Spore 17. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Martin Hoth Guechot Martin Hoth Guechot was born in Mom-Dibang, a small village in southern Cameroon. That is where he launched a development programme working with the villagers that did not rely on outside help. He is currently in charge of...
Martin Hoth Guechot Martin Hoth Guechot was born in Mom-Dibang, a small village in southern Cameroon. That is where he launched a development programme working with the villagers that did not rely on outside help. He is currently in charge of programmes for the Dutch Association for Development Assistance in the northern region of Cameroon. Mom-Dibang is just like any other village in the large tropical forest that covers the southern part of Cameroon between Douala and Yaounde. There is only cacao for export; manioc, macabo, plantains and sweet potatoes for local consumption; maize, peanuts, palm oil and a few animals. There are only basic agricultural tools to work with, a poorly developed road system, technical extension services that are preoccupied with industrial crops, a poor education system and, as if this were not bad enough, continued rural exodus as well as catastrophes that are brought on by any minor problem. Nevertheless, these more or less individualistic farmers have learned to work together and build on their own a real development process. This is the adventure that Martin Hoth Guechot related to SPORE Everything began with the crisis over private education that took place in Cameroon in 1972. Private schools, which could no longer pay their teachers, increased school fees and parents in Mom-Dibang, whose incomes were very low, could not afford to pay them. As the Catholic Mission did not have any funds available to help them, the villagers decided to create their own school. After three years of agitation and discussions, the village of MomDibang was ready to take at least partial responsibility for this school project. For us, assuming one's responsibility meant not only dealing with a specific, pressing problem but also thinking about the steps that we could take ourselves to do what the professional 'developers' were working on here and there. But because Mom-Dibang, isolated in the forest, was off the main roads where the 'projects' took place, there was an enormous amount to be done. Among the objectives established by the farmers were: diversifying food crops to improve the diet and health of children; increasing crop production and farmers' revenues; organizing the harvest, transportation and distribution of products ''exported' by the village; and working together in order to obtain the best prices for such products as well as the lowest costs for inputs and basic needs We began with agriculture and started with the intensification of food crops. Technically, we have abandoned slash and burn methods and have introduced seeding in lines. Through the use of experimental plots, we have slowly won over farmers to improved techniques. This remains at the gardening level because we have not introduced new tools. But we are already lightening the manual workload. In the gardens, results were soon apparent to everyone: with one basket of peanuts sowed, we harvested ten. This success enabled us to introduce millet, a crop that was known only in the northern parts of the country, to replace the pineapple crops and communal banana plots. We have also improved the rearing of livestock by no longer allowing animals to browse freely, a traditional practice that is bad for people's health, damages crops and causes interminable disputes. We built enclosures and appointed local residents to look after these collective herds that are fed with whatever nature offers around the village and with our crop residues. We then turned our attention to what we call the 'internal market' of Mom-Dibang which consists of about 10,000 people spread over several hamlets. We created a 'remote' cooperative of former villagers representing our interests in the large cities in which we do business. They buy at wholesale prices such goods as salt, matches, oil or dried fish and also try to find the best outlets for our own products. Merchants with cars have profited from the poor state of our roads, the lack of storage systems, and illiteracy by imposing their own prices. That is why Mom-Dibang had to develop its own distribution system. Thanks to outside help, this network of representatives in urban centres has recently been complemented by a second-hand vehicle for transporting goods. This system now enables us to generate enough revenue for villagers to afford to pay their taxes and school fees for their children as well as buy some basic consumer goods. We have slowly increased our contact with certain local organizations, notably INADES and a nearby livestock centre, both of which have provided us with valuable training. Our collaboration with other NGOs, however, has not been so successful: it may have been just our bad luck, but each time we tried to work with them they wanted to impose prefabricated solutions on us or use inappropriate methods that were eventually rejected by the villagers. Much remains to be done, notably in the fields of health and training. But we can already see things changing. Some of our young people, previously employed as health or development agents in Yaounde or Douala, are now returning to Mom-Dibang. These 'exiled' farmers have realized that agriculture could be the chance of their lives and that they could make a good living by cultivating the lands of their ancestors. For more details, contact: Martin Hoth-Guechot SNV BP 370 Garoua CAMEROON The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of CTA.
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