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Food and sustainability

Eco-Sustainable Gardens: from food insecurity to an agriculture with a low ecological footprint

A project to help the Mbororo women farmers from Cameroon to provide enough food for their families to fight malnutrition with a low ecological footprint and to sell the overproduction won the BCFN Yes competition in 2015. After more than one year of field work, the local stakeholders have been involved and the project is starting to run and will grow with the help of new partners and new funding organizations.

Eco-Sustainable Gardens is a project developed by students of the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart-Germany, with the goal of sustainably contributing to food security of Mbororo women farmers of the North-Western region of Cameroon without compromising the environment and with a low ecological footprint. It debuted at the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s (BCFN) Young Earth Solutions (YES) competition in Parma, Italy in 2015 and jointly won the BCFN award. The project has since then moved from being just an idea to tangible, measurable efforts on ground. 

The project stands on three major pillars: the contribution to food security and nutrition of a population vulnerable to food insecurity; the circular economy of biomass resources; all while viewing the environment as a resource that must not be compromised. 


A population in need

The project beneficiaries are Mbororo women farmers in the North West Region of Cameroon. Mbororo is a subgroup of the Fulani ethnic group, characterized by a semi nomadic lifestyle. Owing to their life style, Mbororo women tend to be particularly vulnerable to food insecurity as they are left behind by their husbands who mainly are on transhumance in search of pasture for the cattle. Eco-Sustainable Gardens project aims to assist the women farmers in improving their physical as well as economic access to food through sustainable gardening where crops will be cultivated for income purposes as well as for household consumption, amongst which will be nutrient dense indigenous crops that have the potential to tackle such nutrition related issues as hidden hunger.

Biomass as a resource

In consideration of the circular economy of biomass resources and the need of an agriculture with a reduced ecological footprint, the gardening system makes use of cattle manure, otherwise wasted in these communities. If not managed properly it could also be a potentially harmful environmental pollutant by polluting steams and a source of greenhouse gases emissions. The major principle of the gardens is minimal soil disturbance, in conjunction with other soil conservation measures such as cover cropping and grass-strips to reduce the destructive force of falling rain-drops as well as flowing water, reducing soil loss through erosion to a minimum. Manure is embedded into the soil in grooves made on planting rows, rather than ridging or total soil tillage and the surface is mulched after planting. The manure serves as a source of plant nutrients, but also as a soil conditioner leading to improved physical stability. Cover crops are planted on the other undisturbed surface as well as grass strips at intervals to reduce surface flow.

Implementation of the project began systematically with a pilot project in a community with similar characteristics as the first beneficiary communities. Prior to this time, a technical partnership was forged with the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA). MBOSCUDA is the cultural association of the Mbororo people as well as a non-governmental organisation working on securing the needs and interests of the Mbororo people especially regarding issues relating to fundamental human rights. MBOSCUDA is the main project implementation partner for Eco-Sustainable Gardens as they provide a reliable entry point into the Mbororo community and their partnership will help ensuring the sustainability of the project. MBOSCUDA will also be involved in the preparation of sensitisation materials, liaising between the project, the beneficiaries and community hierarchy, between project team and field staff and will also be involved in project monitoring and evaluation. Other key partnerships include other NGOs for cross platform knowledge and experience sharing, universities and agricultural research institutes as well as government ministries.

Before project implementation, key consultation with stakeholders has been done at one on one meetings, workshops and focus group meetings. The beneficiary communities as well as the direct beneficiaries (women) have also been presented with the project, they welcomed the idea and are willing to invest to make it a success. This went as far as provision of a plot for demonstration gardens to be established. The women also pledged their time to look after the demonstration gardens in return for learning the concept introduced by the project.


Future directions

The project has thus far been widely accepted by community heads, household heads as well as the direct beneficiaries (women). Besides the establishment of the project in these communities, research would also go hand in hand to observe the impacts of the project on livelihoods, as well as propose ways to adjust the project strategy for maximal benefit to the women. Research areas include markets and value chain strategies, household as well as community gender relations and how it influences project outcomes, changes in health and nutritional status of beneficiaries attributable to the project, effective soil and crop management systems amongst others.

Demonstration gardens have been properly established and are so far accepted by the people. Thus, the project is ready to roll out services to the identified initial beneficiary communities. There are key issues however that need to be attended to in order to efficiently implement the project. 


The project needs to establish own nurseries in the beneficiary communities as it is rather challenging to get healthy seedlings for the gardens. Unhealthy seedlings would introduce diseases and pests to the gardens leading to poor harvest or high cost of pest-disease control. Establishing own nurseries is also an opportunity to train the beneficiaries on how to raise pests and disease free seedlings thereby providing healthy planting materials for their gardens and at the same time, cutting down costs that would have been incurred in acquisition of seedlings. This also would contribute to long-term sustainability of the project. 

In terms of product aggregation and marketing through a cooperative, the beneficiaries need learned women (preferably Mbororo) for the day to day running of the organisation and for proper records keeping. The project has elected to source and pay formally educated Mbororo women for a period of at least one year at which time, the women would generate their own funds and would be able to cover the overheads for their cooperative by themselves.

The project beneficiaries expressed concern about their capacity to successfully run the project in the case that it got handed to them by the project team in the near future. As a solution, the project will include establishment of farmer field school (FFS) setup as part of the cooperative. This would provide a platform where extension agents from the Ministry of agriculture and from the Ministry of small and medium sized enterprises would train them periodically on issues related to crop production, crop protection, post-harvest handling, processing/value addition and marketing of their produce. The FFS would also be an avenue for the beneficiaries to share their experiences amongst each other and with people from other communities. The project team would also be on ground to address any issues as research would be going on for at least three years.

In light of the above and having successfully piloted the project, the team has secured and is currently seeking additional funds from several organisations to assist the women to make the first investments in their gardens, establish nurseries in the beneficiary communities as well as to finance employment of managers for the cooperative for the first year and until the project becomes financially sustainable. 

The team wishes to express gratitude to the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Young Earth Solutions (YES) competition which provided a platform on which the project came to light and on which it rose to its present state and continues to rise.

by Nadia Ndum Foy, Okon Archibong Ukeme – BCFN Alumni
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