Cameroon — While we (team of reporters) drove through the massive winding Sabga Hill in the Northwest Province of Cameroon, a huge expanse of shrubs and dwarf trees were being consumed by wild fire.
Effect of deforestation
Other vast areas in Babessi, Ndop and neighbouring villages in Ngoketunjia Division already had their turn, as hilly landscapes spread out with remnants of charred shrubs and trees.
As we drove along, it was difficult to see any real trees, only spreading brownish savannah fields that are vulnerable to imminent bush fire, especially in January, which is the heart of the dry season.
Hunters and farmers set the fire, especially during the dry season (at the beginning of the planting season), I learned. Hunters use the fire to trap animals, while farmers use it to provide manure for their farms. Some local inhabitants told me that careless smokers could hurl light cigarette stumps that would set a whole terrain ablaze.
Here, it is traditional for farmers to burn bushes at the start of the planting season. When they have cleared off grass from their farms, they burry the debris in the soil, and then set fire on it. One or two days later, they plant crops on the burnt heaps. The local people call this method ankara.
“The soil here is not fertile and we are forced to go the extra mile to tame it. When we burn the soil before planting, the yields are better,” a farmer said.Overtime, I learned, continuous bush burning has eroded the soil’s fertility and farmers are forced to use artificial fertilizers.
It has also caused the disappearance of certain species of trees and animals that have fled to distant places. Also, nomadic Fulani herdsmen now find it difficult to graze their cattle, since they are forced to walk long distances to find green pasture. We found two Fulani boys, ranging 13-15 years, tending a flock of about 40 cows to graze on rice farms.
“We bring the cows here because there is no green pasture up in our place. Most often, we have to walk very long distances to find where to graze them,” one of them, who shied from telling his name, said.
The scramble for farmland between farmers and grazers has led to farmer/grazer conflicts.
Besides bush burning, the local people fell trees indiscriminately. On an average market day in Bamenda, the Northwest Provincial capital, one would find every kind of commodity, especially foodstuff. But one of the commodities is firewood, which is sold in great quantity.
Firewood now sells like other local favourite products such as maize or potatoes. One does not need to go to markets to find them; firewood vendours are found in the quarters and supply them to households. Also, most families go to the bush themselves to fetch wood.
By the quantity of firewood they sell, you would have the impression that the entire forest in the Northwest has been felled, and this is not far from the truth. This is because firewood is the primary source of fuel in Bamenda and it is economical.
Northwest Agriculture Delegate, Godfred Nutoto Awah, remarked: “Our people do not think of tomorrow, they fell trees without thinking of the consequences. It is affecting agriculture and the environment.”
A local firewood vendour, standing behind a pile of sized wood, tells me that the demand for firewood is high since most households depend on it. He says he has been able to make a living by selling wood.
This is one of the intrinsic habits of the local people – to fell trees for fuel – that has perturbed the Northwest Delegation of Environment and Nature Protection and Agriculture and Rural Development. The search for wood for fuel is dire and efforts to discourage it have yielded little fruits. Tree felling in a predominantly savannah Province like the Northwest is common and local authorities are concerned about an imminent desertification.
Peter Ghogomu, Chief of General Affairs at the Northwest Delegation of Environment, says illegal and indiscriminate exploitation of trees is on the increase. According to him, this, coupled with some artificial dams, has caused floods. He said this has affected the climatic condition of the town, which to him is now getting hotter.
A local farmer revealed that the people’s efforts to supplement trees led them to plant eucalyptus trees that now have an adverse effect on agriculture. The trees have dried up water from the area where they were planted. Most of the eucalyptus trees are now being felled for wood and other commercial purposes.
The Northwest Province may soon be exposed to conditions of drought and famine if indiscriminate felling of trees and wild bush burning is not halted.