REPORT ON THE INTRODUCTION OF VETIVER GRASS IN NGIE, NW CAMEROON, FOR CONTOUR FARMING AND ROADSIDE STABILISATION

Elise Pinners, Joe Agba, Victor Njei, and Pascal Bokkers (SNV, Netherlands Development Organisation), November 2000

(EDITOR'S NOTE. PLEASE NOTE THAT PERHAPS NONE OF WHAT FOLLOWS MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED IF THE VETIVER NETWORK HAD NOT SUPPORTED NGWAINMBI SIMON AND HIS BERUDEP ORGANIZATION BASED IN NW CAMEROON FOUR OF FIVE YEARS AGO)

Summary

One day the Ngie Integrated Rural Development Project (NIRDP/SNV) was introduced to innovative farmers elsewhere in the NorthWest of Cameroon through CIPCRE. Some farmer innovators came to Ngie to share their experiences. First the Night Paddock Manuring Farming System was adopted by Ngie farmers. Considering the high rainfall, steep slopes and visible of on-farm erosion it is clear that soil conservation practices had to be improved. Simultaneously Ngie road rehabilitation was ongoing, and there the challenge is to prevent landslides and blockage of gutters and culverts.

Vetiver grass technology seemed promising so more exchange visits, land-use planning workshops and training took place. Innovative farmers came to train others: how to use Vetiver grass for contour farming or roadside stabilisation.

Now there are almost 20 Vetiver nurseries in Ngie. Some belong to Road Maintenance Committees, others to farming groups. Making use of Vetiver for on-farm soil conservation as well as for roadside stabilisation is still in a pilot phase. There are a few demonstrations along the road: stabilisation of a major bridge, a culvert, and a road wall. On-farm one can see Vetiver in some places, in small quantities. However, while waiting for Vetiver to multiply Ngie farmers exchange their experiences, on soil fertility management methods in general, and contour farming in special.

Introduction of Vetiver is a good entry leading to other matters of soil conservation or even road maintenance. The challenge is now to involve a wider public; strengthening farmers' networks or organisations, to organise more exchange visits. Eventually some farmers could become involved in further studies on problematic soil fertility management issues like burning or farming along steep slopes.

Another challenge is to keep up the spirit of Road Maintenance Committees. More training and demonstration is needed to show the use of Vetiver to prevent road degradation and landslides, to ease maintenance work. Vetiver multiplication could be a matter of communal labour. And back to soil conservation: road maintenance may be an introduction to discuss the necessity of improving on-farm soil conservation methods as well.

Soil conservation in Ngie is a matter of primary concern to us all, and not in the last place to the future generation.

Résumé

Un jour le projet à Ngie (NIRDP/SNV) a été introduit aux paysans innovateurs ailleurs au Nord-Ouest du Cameroun par CIPCRE. Certains paysans innovateurs sont venus à Ngie pour partager leurs expériences. D'abord le Système de Production `Parc à Nuit' est adopté par des paysans à Ngie. Tenant compte du pluviométrie élevée, pentes fortes et de l'érosion visible il est clair qu'il faut améliorer les pratiques de conservation des sols. A même temps il y a réhabilitation de la route à Ngie, et ici le défi est de prévenir des glissements de terre et le blocage du drainage.

La technologie Vetiver semble promettante et donc plusieurs visites d'échange, ateliers gestion terroir et formations ont eu lieu. Paysans innovateurs sont venus pour former d'autres: comment utiliser Vetiver pour travailler le long des courbes de niveau pour stabiliser les côtes de la route.

Maintenant il y a environ 20 pépinières de Vetiver à Ngie. Certains appartiennent aux Comités d'Entretien de la Route, d'autres appartiennent aux groupes des paysans. L'usage de Vetiver pour la conservation de sol au champ aussi bien que pour la stabilisation des côtes de la route n'est qu'au phase pilote. Il y a quelques démonstrations le long de la route: stabilisation d'un pont majeur, un buse, et une côte de la route. Dans les champs on peut y observer du Vetiver, mais pas encore beaucoup. En tout cas, en attendant la multiplication de Vetiver les paysans de Ngie échangent leurs expériences, sur la gestion du fertilité de sol en général, et surtout la culture le long des courbes de niveau.

L'introduction de Vetiver est une bonne entrée, menant aux autres sujets de conservation de sol ou même l'entretien de la route. Le défis est maintenant d'atteindre un public plus large; il faut renforcer les réseaux et organisations paysannes, pour organiser plus des visites d'échange. Eventuellement certains paysans pouvaient étudier plus profonde les problèmes de gestion de la fertilité de sol comme la culture sur brûlis ou sur des pentes plus fortes.

Un autre défis est de maintenir l'enthousiasme des Comités d'Entretien de la Route. Plus de formations et démonstrations sont nécessaires pour montrer l'usage de Vetiver, pour prevenir la dégradation de la route et des glissements de la terre, et ainsi faciliter la tâche d'entretien de la route. La multiplication de Vetiver pourra être une question de travail communautaire. Et pour retourner au conservation de sol: l'entretien de la route pourra aussi faciliter la discussion sur le besoin d'améliorer les méthodes de conservation de sol dans les champs.

La conservation de sol à Ngie est une chose qui nous concerne tous, et surtout la génération future.

1. Introduction

Ngie subdivision is part of Momo division, NorthWest province, Cameroon. The altitude varies between 500-2000 m., with steep slopes, some above 50%. Annual rainfall varies between 2500-3000 mm. The soil has developed from granite, is often rocky and generally poor or medium fertile. Soil fertility is quite variable and depends much on the kind of soil fertility management that is practised. Low organic matter content and high rainfall often lead to Nitrogen shortage. In other cases Phosphate is clearly insufficient.

As population increases, more marginal areas are cleared for agriculture. Sometimes food crops are cultivated on slopes steeper than 45¼. In Ngie most hilltops are not cultivated, they are for grazing (picture 1). Original Ngie people as well as Fulani people (who live in this area for many generations) own cattle. In Upper Ngie (above 1000 meter) surplus food is marketed, for example cocoyam, sweet potato, plantain, beans, and some Irish potato. Oil palm is the main cash crop in Lower Ngie.

The Ngie road has a reputation (picture 2). At its worst, it was only accessible by 4WD vehicles, and on some rainy days no car could pass at all for a few days. Most items are transported on the head. The road is supposed to be maintained by the local population. Drainage is often insufficient (considering high rainfall!), road walls are vertical, landslides occur, and bridges collapse.

The focus of Ngie Integrated Rural Development Project (NIRDP, implemented by SNV) is on productive sectors like agriculture, livestock and marketing, and on road maintenance. The main strategy is now to reinforce local organisations like the Ngie Union of Farming Groups (NUFAG) and village Road Maintenance Committees (RMC's).

The Ngie Rural Infrastructure Development Project (RIDP) is linked to NIRPD, and supervises Ngie road rehabilitation. Cameroonian contractors do the work. The rehabilitated road will be handed over to the Ngie population. It is the task of Village Traditional Councils and their RMC's to maintain the road. This means clearing of gutters and culverts, removing landslides, filling potholes, and roadside stabilisation to prevent blockage of culverts and gutters and landslides. Vetiver can play a crucial role in this.

In this paper we first explain how Vetiver was introduced in Ngie, both for on-farm soil conservation as for roadside stabilisation. We report on achievements so far, and finally some recommendations are given for the future. There are technical recommendations as well as some reflection on organisational aspects.

2. History of the use of Vetiver in the NorthWest

In Cameroon intensive on-farm use of Vetiver has started in Belo, NW Province. Belo has several group nurseries, and many farmers there use Vetiver for contour farming. However, extension of this practice towards other areas is not yet taking off. Vetiver is demonstrated for roadside stabilisation near Belo, but the use for roads is seen only in some isolated places and only in this part of Cameroon as far as we know.

The NIRDP Technical Assistant for Agriculture learned to know about Vetiver through CIPCRE, an NGO involved in a programme promoting farmer innovators. In the NorthWest this programme concentrates itself in the villages of Babanki and Belo. It is in Belo that they found the innovative farmer who introduced Vetiver.

Vetiveria zizanioides, here called Vetiver, has stood the test of time as a grass that can prevent erosion. This plant is ideally suited for soil conservation in Ngie. Its characteristics that are of importance in Ngie are:

3. Methods used

The introduction of Vetiver did not come just like that. The characteristics of the area and the focus of the project make that the introduction of Vetiver for soil conservation and roadside stabilisation looks like a very relevant activity. But Vetiver was not the only interesting innovation. Other innovations like the Night Paddock Manuring Farming System (short: Paddock Farming) were introduced simultaneously; sometimes the two methods could be linked. The link to roadside stabilisation was a natural one, considering the impressive problems with the road. But it all started, like in many projects, with PRA.Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA's) have been done in '97 and '98 in Ajei and Tinechung village. One land-use-related problem, often mentioned in these PRA's, is that there are frequent conflicts between farmers and graziers. These conflicts are caused by the fact that animals (especially cattle) regularly encroach upon food crop farms, causing considerable damage. Cattle owners add to this that in the dry season there are only a few cattle drinking places, and pastures are degrading, making it difficult for cattle to feed. Also the degradation of farming land and, linked to that, increased distance to farms are mentioned.

Still, it should not be forgotten that the main problem in the area was and is the bad state of the road. The population frequently expressed this concern in many ways.

Farmers' exchange visits were organised, based on the need to show some farmer's options, or farmers' practices elsewhere that could be of interest to Ngie farmers. Especially Night Paddock Manuring Farming System (short: Paddock Farming) as developed by farmers in Babanki seemed interesting (pictures 3, 4 & 5). But CIPCRE emphasised that we should not only take a look at Paddock Farming, but also at other innovations like the use of Vetiver in contour farming as seen in Belo. Alongside contour farming with Vetiver, we also observed Vetiver for roadside stabilisation.

Women and men, farmers and cattle owners went on exchange visits. Even a traditional leader (the Fon of Ajei, chairman of the Ngie Traditional Council) went. Every time it was well defined what was to be seen, what could be learned, and what follow-up was needed. Those who went for exchange visits helped us to explain to their village why a land-use-planning workshop should be organised, to convince others on the importance of such a workshop and ensure proper village-level preparations for it.

Some more exchange visits were organised after the workshops, and later it was sufficient to organise exchange visits only within Ngie, as the first farmers had started practising some methods. Ajei farmers went to Tinechung, the Ngie Union of Farming Groups (NUFAG) organised its own soil fertility exchange and paddock farming visits, and more recently Etwii farmers received those from Ajei.

Land-use planning workshops were organised in 2 villages (Tinechung and Ajei). In these workshops farmers from all quarters of the village concerned, local chiefs, and also the administration participated (the District Officer plays a role in farmer-grazier conflicts). Most participants were women (picture 6), and they made sure that their problem of crop damage was well discussed. Resource farmers from outside Ngie were also present.

The objective of land-use planning workshops was to analyse land-use problems as mentioned during PRA, and to make action plans. The most important steps in these workshops were participatory mapping and farm walks (picture 7), in which problems and options were already discussed. For example it was observed that some farmers try to reduce erosion by making contour beds (picture 8). However, even when the beds are along contours, the paths between the beds still allow water to go down fast, thus creating gullies (picture 9). Resource farmers from outside Ngie played an important role in these discussions, adding their observations and possible solutions.

In the action plans that were made the following activities were prominent:

- Paddock Farming

The two workshops generated a lot of enthusiasm in both villages. Action plans were followed up quite well (see results). Some follow-up exchange visits and training took place, Vetiver nurseries started, and farmers started putting up fences for Paddock Farming (picture 10).

Farmer-to-farmer training

In Tinechung knowledgeable farmers gave training on Paddock Farming from the Babanki Farmers' Union KEKUFAG. Accompanying measures were discussed in this training for example the need to produce fodder, control pests, and control erosion. The erosion problem was well demonstrated in Tinechung. By that time the first Tinechung farmer, who had gone to Babanki, had already done a season of paddock farming. Erosion could be well observed in this farm (picture 11 & 12). At this point that farmers in Tinechung got interested in Vetiver, and another exchange visit was organised.

In Ajei village the resource farmer from the Belo Farmers' Union BERUDEP already campaigned right during the land-use-planning workshop on the importance of Vetiver. Ajei farmers competed to get their share of Vetiver slips brought in by the resource farmer. In both villages a woman farmer was chosen to be co-ordinator of the Vetiver multiplication training. The village was responsible to host & feed the farmer-trainer.All training on Vetiver (Tinechung, Ajei, and along the Ngie road) was given by BERUDEP resource farmers.

Group nurseries and nurseries for roadside stabilisation

In Tinechung and Ajei the training resulted in the start of group nurseries. However, it became clear that Vetiver should also be tested for roadside stabilisation, and these villages are not located along the Ngie road. It was decided to start demonstrating the use of Vetiver for roadside stabilisation on the Ngie road, where road rehabilitation was actually taking place. Contracts were drawn up, involving RIDP, the road contractor, CIPCRE, BERUDEP, village road maintenance committees, and Vetiver suppliers. Preference was given to women suppliers, because usually women contribute more of their labour to road maintenance than men, and this job was to be well paid. Besides, women may have a larger interest in using Vetiver as well for soil conservation, as they farm most food crops.

RIDP made an inventory of the pilot sites, where Vetiver could be demonstrated. Some sites were unstable roadside walls that risked collapsing (landslides); other sites were culverts. RIDP technicians and some men from the road contractor were present at the Vetiver multiplication training (picture 13 & 14).

Village road maintenance committees appointed Vetiver suppliers that were to be contracted: attending the Vetiver multiplication training was a must, but later every clump of Vetiver produced was to be paid. This surely increased the status of Vetiver as a valuable plant. Besides, the suppliers learned about other uses of Vetiver, for example for on-farm soil conservation, or storage of beans & maize.

CIPCRE sub-contracted Vetiver suppliers, organised training involving the farmer from BERUDEP, followed-up in the nurseries, and finally the planting on demonstration sites, all this in close collaboration with NIRDP.

4. Results and difficulties

Vetiver multiplication

Speed of Vetiver multiplication was not as expected (as indicated by the farmer-trainer from BERUDEP), partly because some farmers initially inter-cropped Vetiver with food crops, insufficient manuring, and shade effects. But even in the best cases it takes a year to grow a clump of 30 slips out of one slip.

So far, in Tinechung there are two big and three smaller nurseries, and three nurseries in Ajei, and recently – during the exchange visit in Etwii (a village along the road), one nursery was in the middle of a farming area. Groups with nurseries report that their nurseries attract new group members: more women express their wish to become a member of the group, to obtain Vetiver. Group members consider the value of their efforts on Vetiver multiplication, and the value of Vetiver, and decide that a kind of subscription fee should be introduced for new group members. In Ajei they talked about a `Vetiver club'.

The contracted Vetiver suppliers for the Ngie road, knowing that the nursery site belongs to their RMC, started their own private Vetiver nurseries. All those who were trained are interested to produce Vetiver, if not for the road then for themselves on-farm, or for other farmers. There is a growing demand for Vetiver, and prices are a matter of negotiation. At this stage there are 6 RMC nurseries and at least 6 small private nurseries in the villages along the road (picture 15).

Contour farming

In most cases the material is judged to be still insufficient to start planting contour lines. Only in Tinechung about 4 farmers have planted a line of Vetiver on their farm. The impact still has to be evaluated with the farmers themselves, but results are already visible. Other farmers expect to be planting in March 2001, when the next rains start.

But while waiting for Vetiver to grow, in Tinechung some women did their own experiment, and invited others to show the results; the yield of beans growing on contour beds was compared with that from beds along the slope. Yield differences were clear and convinced other farmers. In the discussion they even agreed to propose a `by-law' that would oblige all farmers to farm along contours.

The most recent exchange visit in Etwii (present: 24 women & 1 man) was interesting because the exchange between farmers from 3 different villages resulted in lively discussions, for example:

Roadside stabilisation

In September 2000 Vetiver was planted on the side of the main bridge, and around a dozen culverts. As the road rehabilitation had not yet finished the technicians then hesitated to try Vetiver on roadsides as well. CIPCRE and NIRDP/RIDP technicians (re-) visiting the sites observed the following:

The exercise was quickly corrected the following weeks, when most technicians involved (NIRDP, RIDP, and CIPCRE) and representatives of the road maintenance committees (including Vetiver suppliers) joined hands to replant Vetiver. One road wall of about 6 m long and 3 m high, above the inlet of a culvert, was shaped (sloped to about 60¼) and planted with about 5 rows of Vetiver (picture 18). Also a few rows of Vetiver were planted on the outlet side of that culvert that looked quite well compacted (picture 19).

Other results and difficulties

Unfortunately Fulani people were not sufficiently involved in LUP workshops, even though paddock farming is highly relevant to them (Fulani being cattle guards or -owners). In Ngie most Fulani do not farm, so Vetiver is not (yet) so interesting for them.

Other uses of Vetiver, as explained during the training were remembered: during the work on roadsides it was seen that Vetiver suppliers carefully gathered the pruned roots and took them home.

5. Recommendations

Contour farming

More exchange visits on soil fertility management are needed within Ngie, in order to reach a wider public. NUFAG could play a role, organising them. Timing of exchange visits is important. They should take place just before farmers start preparing their land; it is only then that farmers can adapt their farming methods: making contour beds and eventually planting Vetiver on contour lines. During these visits farmers could be stimulated to start experimenting with contour farming, Vetiver, and other improved soil fertility management methods. These kinds of activities are a good preparation for the introduction of Vetiver in the farms. Meanwhile it takes some time for Vetiver nurseries to produce.

A farmer's network for exchange of knowledge on contour farming (or soil fertility management) would be interesting, if feasible. Could NUFAG play a role in this?

In theory also government extension staff could play a role in the networking. However, it seems that the National Extension Programme only recently started to focus on the facilitating role of extension staff. Little attention is paid to identification of innovators, reinforcing farmers' networking and exchange of knowledge, and making use of farmers as trainers. Although on national level some interest is shown in Participatory Technology Development, the reality on the lowest levels is that extension staff is not trained to assume a facilitating role, and they have no budget to pay farmers as resource persons and trainers. Also, neither local administration or farmers' organisations have any control over government extension staff.

It would be interesting to do a more detailed participatory study on soil fertility management methods that are actually used. Such a study could include questions like:

For such a study the formation of a farmers' research group is important.

Roadsides

On the roadsides where Vetiver is not planted in the proper way, giving a wrong example, it is better to remove Vetiver, using it for nurseries. Care should be taken to show only good examples, because many people walk along the road and draw their own conclusions.

Vetiver for roadside stabilisation can only be applied on a large scale once roadwork has entirely finished, and even then the speed of roadside planting is limited by the speed of Vetiver multiplication.

More awareness raising is necessary on the impact of different farming methods on the road. Still a majority of the farmers farms along the slope, especially where slopes are steep. Good soils from farms are washed away and block road drainage. Remarkable is the answer of women Vetiver suppliers, when asked what they do with weeds like elephant grass, when their farm is along the road: “we dump it into the gutter”. Frequently road gutters along farms are blocked by weeds that are deliberately dumped there (picture 20). The farmers do not realise the effect that their farm activities have on the road.

Extension of on-farm soil conservation along the road

As a pilot activity along the road, a RMC may choose one slope or catchment site to start with. A meeting with all those who farm there should be organised. Such a meeting is like a mini land-use-planning workshop: erosion problems will be analysed on-farm and along the road at the same time, and an action plan will be made. The farmers will be organised in a catchment group.

Organisational aspects for road maintenance

Many questions on road maintenance remain to be answered in the future, for example: How can RMC's organise the continuation of the Vetiver multiplication and planting without spending money? In how far can they rely on communal labour for multiplication and planting of Vetiver? Clearly, more suppliers should be trained, but can RMC's rely on the moral obligations posed on the trained Vetiver suppliers, to share their knowledge and experience and a bit of planting material?

It may be necessary to remind the trained suppliers of the fact that they were appointed by their RMC to receive this training (for free), planting material (for free), and generous payments for the Vetiver supplied in the following year. It may also be useful to emphasise on the fact that road maintenance is supposed to be a matter of communal labour. Is Vetiver multiplication and planting for roadside stabilisation not part of communal labour? The purpose of all this Vetiver planting is that, in the long run, time will be saved:

Another question is whether shaping of road walls (before planting Vetiver) should be presented as a job for men. This to emphasise the need to increase men's labour contribution in road maintenance. Arguments like `men use spades and spades are used for shaping road walls' may be useful.

Use of roots and leaves for storage of beans and maize

In Belo the argument that Vetiver prevents snakes from entering the compound was the most convincing argument for farmers to start multiplying Vetiver. Only later it was realised that it was more interesting to use Vetiver for contour farming. Also in Ngie Vetiver applications other than for contour farming may influence its adoption: women may be interested in the use of Vetiver to store beans and maize, as they have major problems with this storage, or to use it for farm boundary marcation.

Final remark

From the above it may become clear that much more has to be done on soil conservation. Road maintenance may be an extra incentive to initiate discussions on this matter. Once people observe the ways of water more intensely, and think about how it affects their farm and the road, it will become obvious that soil conservation in Ngie is a matter that concerns us all, and also the future generation (picture 21).

Acknowledgements

We appreciated the efforts of all whose names are mentioned here below, because they have voluntarily travelled over the Ngie road when at its worst.

First of all we thank the farmers from BERUDEP and KEKUFAG farmers' union that have received the Ngie farmers and shared their experiences, especially the innovators that travelled to Ngie to train their colleagues: Simon Ngwaimbi, Innocent Chia and Samuel Toh.

Very special thanks have to go to Patricia Kouamo, Mary Mbafor and other enthusiastic staff of the Bamenda branch of CIPCRE, who have insisted on explaining us about the importance of some farmer innovations they had identified in the NorthWest. Of course many thanks to Paul Tchawa from the Cameroon ISWC/PFI programme that promotes farmer innovators. He allowed some of us to attend their training on Participatory Technology Development and the International Workshop on Farmer Innovations. Both events were very interesting and relevant.Also thanks to NIRDP/RIDP colleagues, who gave their contribution and supported this work: Eric Utagah (animator Livestock), Edwin Bodja & Yeyung Goghomu (road technicians) and Walter Smit (road engineer).

Finally we thank the Vetiver N etwork of promptly sending us some good extension material, that was of practical help to prepare training and to do the practical work.

Abbreviations

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation

NIRDP/RIDP Ngie Integrated Rural Development Project / Ngie Rural Infrastructure Development Project; both projects are financed by SNV and STABEX/EU, and implemented by SNV

RMC/VTC Road Maintenance Committee / Village Traditional Council

NUFAG Ngie Union of Farming Groups

CIPCRE Cercle International pour la Promotion de la Création (Bamenda branch)

BERUDEP Belo ... (Farmers' Union in Belo)

KEKUFAG Kedjom ... (Farmers' Union in Babanki)

ISWC/PFI ISWC: Indigenous Soil & Water Conservation in Africa / PFI: Promoting Farmer Innovation; implemented by CDCS (Centre for Development Cooperation Services)

PNVRA `Programme National de Vulgarisation et Recherche Agricole

PRA Participatory Rural Appraisal

LUP Land-Use-Planning

SFM Soil Fertility Management

PTD Participatory Technology Development.