from NGALA KILLIAN CHIMTOM in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDÉ, (CAJ News) – WHILE the area’s predicament has been worsened by the deadly Boko Haram crisis posed by the militant Islamic sect, it is not all doom and gloom in Cameroon’s Far North region where collaborations between government and partners are scaling down poverty, mitigating climate change, strengthening institutional performance and preventing further catastrophes.
The Far North Region, with a typically hot and dry climate, is historically battered by a variety of crises, ranging from climate change effects-excessive rains, incessant drought and constant floods.
The Boko Haram insurgency perpetrated by the Nigerian sect, which has killed more than 500 Cameroonian nationals over the past year and displaced 200 000 people within the region, has further worsened the setbacks.
The terror has led to rather high influx of refugees into the culturally diverse Far North, today estimated at over 100 000, and internally Displaced Persons numbering 106 000, further putting strains on host communities.
According to rights group, Amnesty International, from July 2015 to July 2016, Boko Haram has conducted at least 200 attacks in Cameroon, including nearly 40 suicide bombings in the Far North region of the country.
The economic consequences of the insurgency are becoming heavily felt as cross-border trade between Cameroon and Nigeria, situated in the west, has dried up.
Tourism, a key economic resource in the area, is virtually non-existent.
Dwindling exchanges between the two countries as a result of insecurity and border closures is driving up prices of basic goods in the region, further worsening poverty levels in the region.
In the face of this disturbing combination-a security situation worsened by natural disasters- the Central African country of Cameroon, with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), since 2013, has put in place a series of programmes to reverse the adverse impacts posed by the natural and manmade forces.
About CFA 1 billion (more than US1, 67 million), most of it coming from the government, has been injected into programs aimed at poverty-reduction. Thousands have benefitted in areas comprising Dombrou, Maga, Mouvouldaye and Touloum, among some localities that have gained from the project .
Kattoum Annette, a 50-year old mother-of-six in the locality of Doumrou told CAJ News how she used to eke a living cultivating onions that did not provide returns.
The produce would frequently rot because owing to lack of storage facilities.
Often her somewhat large family would go hungry for days while her thatched hut was frequently exposed to the vagaries of the weather.
Getting to hospital or giving an education to her children was a luxury for her under such conditions.
The poverty-reduction scheme has transformed the family’s fortunes.
Her Common Initiative Group has benefitted from a CFA 2,5 million seed fund. The turnover at the first harvest was CFA 8,5 million.
Kattoum has been able to build a new house and roof with zinc, and has bought a groundnut grinding mill that gives her at least CFA 6 000 daily.
At least ten people in the village of some 2 000 people now have secure
homes and incomes.
In Touloum, locals have been able to expand their maize and sorghum farms as well as raising larger quantities of livestock. The Fulani (Fulbe) cattle rearers make up a large portion of the Far North’s population of 4 million (over 17 percent of the country’s population).
In Maga, a locality in the Mayo Danay Division, where memories of the 2012 devastating floods continue to pervade the mind, farmers are gradually defying poverty.
Over CFA 53 million has been channeled into the locality for 2013-2017.
Mayor of Maga, Ibrahim Boucar, said 11 Common Initiative Groups benefitted from the funding, which has enabled them to cultivate such grains as rice and sorghum with lucrative returns.
The beneficiaries said the funding had helped them improve their yields, better the storage facilities, and expanded their farms.
Najat Rochdi has hailed the initiaves by government and UN partners as “a great success story that helps to enhance the dignity of the locals as human beings.”
“I am overwhelmed by the testimonies I am getting from the ground,” Rochdi told CAJ News.
“Women can now afford to go for ante-natal care, and have the unique opportunity to send their kids to college,” she added.
She points out the programme is more than just about assistance.
“It is really about inclusion. It is about equipping people with the skills, providing them also with some micro-credits as seed funding, either to help them start something new, or to help them expand whatever they have been doing.”
Florence Bopda, the National Director of the sub-programme on the Reduction of Poverty, said the success recorded so far was enough motivation for the government and its partners to do even more.
“The number of beneficiaries, about 8 000, is still too small compared to the number of poor people. Government’s aim is to get all citizens out of the poverty cycle and we will continue to work with our partners to make that happen,” she said.
However, full success can only be achieved if the perennial problem of late disbursement of funds is resolved, and if people are empowered to feel full ownership of the project.
Dieudonné Bondoma Yokono, the Director General in Charge of Territorial Development in the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, welcomed the partnership with UN’s global development network and expressed encouragement at strides made thus far.
“The role of the government is to promote local development. So with the UNDP, we are financing local communities to implement their development projects,” said Yokono.
– CAJ News