The Northwest Province, which is one of the ten administrative units of Cameroon, has a population of almost two million people. It is located in the western highlands and characterized by high altitudes ranging from 1,000- 1,008 meters above sea level. Unsustainable agricultural land use practices, such as traditional slash and burn, are increasing the destruction of natural resources and resulting in heightened poverty, worsened gender equality and human suffering. The Ntankah Village Women Common Initiative Group, a grassroots organization focusing on gender empowerment, livelihood improvement, and HIV/AIDS care, implemented the ‘Grassroots Women Environmental Protection and Poverty Alleviation Project’, which was supported by the GEF Small Grants Programme and other donors. This project was undertaken in the Mankon Fondom region of Cameroon from 2007 to 2009. The target beneficiaries of this project were over 150 women and their families, comprising 900 people. Fourteen of the women were infected by HIV/AIDS. The project won the 2008 Red Ribbon Award from UNAIDS. The red ribbon is a global symbol in the movement to address AIDS.
The project promoted women’s empowerment through sustainable agriculture, forest, and hunting practices and led to biodiversity conservation and sustainable land management. The project led to increased income and empowerment of women by decreasing soil erosion, increasing crop yield and reducing greenhouse gas production and the use of synthetic fertilizers. Women were further empowered through active group participation and the use of democratic practices. The project also provided opportunities to HIV/AIDS infected women to participate in community environmental initiatives, thereby building their self-esteem and vocational skill set to help them earn their livelihoods.
Integrating a gender perspective into biodiversity planning supports more efficient and effective implementation of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The goals of mainstreaming gender into NBSAP strategies and actions include to: i) reduce gender inequalities and the vulnerabilities of dependent communities; ii) prevent negative impacts on and promote benefits for women; and iii) maximize the efficiency and sustainability of conservation efforts. This case study demonstrates how building women's capacity in sustainable agricultural management promotes women's empowerment and environmental conservation.
The project goal is to protect the environment and improve the socio-economic condition of women. The objectives are to:
- Build the capacity of women by curbing the practice of slash and burn agriculture to less than 20% of the present level;
- Teach women to produce compost from manure, and to promote agro-forestry in the project area using leguminous species;
- Increase the maize yield of farmers from the present level within two years;
- Train the women’s group and community members in sustainable agricultural practices and tree domestication, as well as provide viable alternatives to slash and burn agriculture;
- Promote the exchange of information and best practices among women in the communities and elsewhere on effective land management strategies;
- Promote leadership amongst women in relation to environmental issues and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Key project activities:
- Organized workshops on the importance of soil and water as a natural resource, appropriate farming techniques, negative environmental impacts of practice of slash and burn agriculture, and modern pig production techniques;
- Produced and used manure to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers;
- Established and used leguminous plants to improve soil fertility;
- Selected and traditionally breed five locally-adapted Maize varieties;
- Domesticated rearing of cane rats;
- Produced and sold pigs and pig manure;
- Established an environmental information and documentation center for womens continuous education and empowerment.
Women’s empowerment is an on-going process that must be achieved through multiple routes, at multiple different levels, and by engaging multiple actors. Self-esteem building should be a specific target in empowerment initiative, as knowledge transfer and awareness raising efforts are futile without self-esteem. Additionally increased income leads to higher self-esteem within the community. Education increases civic participation. Peer support within community-based women’s groups can help increase participation. Demonstration agricultural plots can support a community in moving away from environmental unfriendly agricultural practices. For example, at the project’s inception, some members wanted to continue the practice of “slash and burn agriculture,” based on the belief that it increases soil fertility. Women were encouraged to have demonstration plots, one of which was cultivated without the application of slash and burn agriculture and another one cultivated after burning the grasses. At harvest time, it was observed that the plot cultivated without application of slash and burn agriculture yielded more corn and yams than other plot. After seeing the results, women were more open to abandoning traditional slash and burn practices.
The results of the project include:
- The project was designed for women, who then participated in all phases of the project, from design to implementation and evaluation.
- Over 190 women were trained in environment-related issues.
- Over 60 women were trained in cane rat domestication
- Women infected or affected by HIV/AIDS were provided an opportunity to participate in community environmental initiatives, earn a living despite the disease and reduce their stigma in the community.
- Greater level of environmental awareness for women and reduced biodiversity loss; • Reductions in the slash and burn practices and bush fires, and reductions in the conflicts caused by the spread of bush fires resulting from rampant practice of slash and burn;
- Fifty percent reduction in chemical fertilizer applications and incorrect use;
- Over 40% increase in use of organic manure and compost; and
- Decrease in soil erosion; increase in crop yield; reduction in greenhouse gas production.
- As established through surveys, women members now have a better understanding of their economic contribution to the household and community. Men have recognized women as valuable partners in sustaining homes and families.
- The community is interested in raising pigs and cane rats to leverage additional income. Pig manure is used as a fertilizer, which improves the quality and quantity of crops such as maize and sweet potatoes.
- The Information and Documentation Centre has become a popular community space. A wide collection of books, magazines, pamphlets and new media (internet stations) are available, and women and men and boys and girls are actively making use of them for knowledge and skill development and exchange?
- New partnerships with other development stakeholders have been built upon the success of this initiative.