Cameroon: Bush Burning Fuels Climate Change

Cameroon: Bush Burning Fuels Climate Change

22 February 2008

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Cameroon — It was 5. 30 pm at Ijim in Boyo Division of the Northwest Province. The hot sun had just quit the stage, giving way to a biting cold.

Columns of smoke could be seen meandering into the sky. They seemed to be in a stiff competition of emitting carbondioxide into the atmosphere. As this reporter approached the scene, a lofty fire was devouring a vast savannah area.

The cattle breeders who had set the fire, nodded with satisfaction as the fire went amok with the blowing of a gentle wind. The flames would skip and catch grass many metres away.

“When the rains come, this grazing land will be green again,” one of the herdsmen remarked. The man, whose name we got as Bello, was the byword of a climate change victim, had rough lips that had been cracked by harsh weather. His body was almost as white as chalk.

He was suffering from an influenza that made his nose run permanently with mucus. He kept on whipping it off with the back of his hand. He was dying of thirst and the only place where he could get water from, was a spring several kilometres from his hut.

He equally complained that many of his cows were dying because of no water. Yet, Bello and other cattle breeders in the area were quite ignorant of the damage that they were causing to the environment. They did not know that the bushfires they were setting helped to swell the amount of greenhouse gases that causes climate change.

The greatest victims of the bush burning are the farms that share boundaries with the grazing land at Laikom, which is the traditional capital of Boyo Division. “Hardly does a year pass without bushfire ravaging my farm,” Nini Bih, a sexagenarian, told The Post. Besides the heavy weight of age, her back seems to have been further hunched by decades of hard farming that yield little dividends because of climate change.

The infertility that Nini Bih’s farms suffer in an area known as Ndji-akuh at Lackon, is not only due to bush fires from graziers. She too, burns her farms in an environmental-unfriendly practice popularly known as ankara.

Nini Bih calls it “ngwel” in her local Itanghikom dialect. She believes that the burning fertilizes the soil. But the Northwest Provincial Delegate of Agriculture, Godfred Nutoto Awah, warns that such burning destroys soil nutrients and makes it infertile. He holds that the farmers can use manure to render farms more fertile and not burn the soil.

The effects of man-made climate change in this area are quite devastating. According to an indigene of the area, Bobe Nsom Lo-oh, the little patches of forest in the area have been laid bare by human activity. Besides pressure from the farming population, Nsom holds that bush fires have also been eating deep into the forest.

The consequences in the hilly village of Laikom are dreadful. Little streams dry off as soon as the dry season begins given that water tables have been tampered with. The farmer here works hard throughout the year for too little.

“Our main crop here is maize, but we end up harvesting nothing,” Ngwe Kuo, another farmer, complained. She said whenever it is dry season maize doesn’t do well. They become as stunted as shrubs and eventually dry off, provoking an upsurge of starvation in the area.

According to authorities in the Northwest Delegation of the Environment and Nature Protection, bush burning is very rampant in the province, thereby swelling the dimension of climate change in the area.

The Northwest Delegate of Agriculture corroborated this view by stating that climate change is posing a serious threat to food security in the area. Nutoto Awah holds that climate change is fuelling poverty among farmers in the area because those who used to sell agricultural produce for their livelihood have seen their harvests dwindle from year to year.

It was because of this that the authorities launched a campaign to stem the tides.

“We launched a campaign discouraging the burning of bushfires among farmers and graziers,” the Delegate said. He said they encourage farmers to use organic manure and stop felling trees at random.

Corroborating this view, a climate change expert in the Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection, Gabriel Tchatat, said tree-planting is one of the major ways of fighting climate change. He said it is incumbent on every Cameroonian to avoid any activity that would destroy the environment and emit greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

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