- Farmers and livestock owners in Oku village in Cameroon's North West Province have overcome local conflicts and joined forces to improve production and protect an area in the endangered Kilum mountain forest. Thus, they have been nominated for the Equator Prize 2004.
The Itoh Community Graziers Common Initiative Group is one of 26 finalists nominated from among 340 community projects for the Equator Prize 2004, to be awarded on 19 February to six outstanding community efforts to improve livelihoods and conserve bio-diversity in tropical countries, the UN development agency UNDP announced today.
The group's 60 members are from two ethnic groups that have been at odds. The M'bororo, who settled in the community grazing area some 30 years ago, are mainly pastoralists, while the indigenous people in surrounding villages are mostly farmers. Confrontations grew out of crop destruction by cattle and encroachment on grazing areas by farmers seeking land for crops.
- Begun five years ago by UNDP with support from the European Union, the pilot project has worked with the group to carefully integrate crops and livestock over a 140 hectare area to limit conflicts, improve animal production and farmers' livelihoods and conserve the unique environment, the UN agency reports today.
The forest is a source of wealth. It provides medicinal plants, natural erosion control for the watershed, firewood and favourable conditions for farming and rearing livestock.
According to UNDP, the group constructed a fence around the community grazing area to keep livestock from invading neighbouring farms; divided grazing land into paddocks for cattle, goats and sheep so the animals can graze in rotation; upgraded pastures with improved forage species; and built a livestock dip to protect against parasites.
The project members have also planted over 30,000 trees of various species - some medicinal and others for livestock feed and offering pollen for bees, promoted modern livestock rearing techniques and use of oxen for farming, and established a plant nursery.
- The project has instilled a spirit of tolerance among my community, which comes from diverse backgrounds, Fon Ngum III, the village head of Oku, told UNDP in Cameroon.
The traditional leader is leading the project team to the Equator Prize event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "It has instilled a spirit of working together as one for the common interest, something which never existed before, leading to numerous conflicts," Fon Ngum III told UNDP.
- People are benefiting from improved food yields thanks to UNDP support for training to preserve the bio-diversity including better skills, and water management also has played a role in pacifying conflicts between groups, he said.
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