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The Rebuntu House

WOMEN VULNERABILITY AND RESILIENCE IN THE SAHEL

Betseto Bobeto Bertrand, 2021 Okwelians Fellow

May 2021, Woman selling fowls at the market of Karewa, North Cameroon

In its African Gender Equality Index produced in 2015, the AfDB presented the results of statistical surveys on gender issues in Africa. This document was also the place to propose 8 axes on which the countries of the continent should work in order to reduce the gender gap in the following 3 points: economic opportunities, human development, and laws and institutions. In this ranking, Cameroon is part of the bottom third of the list occupying the 40th place out of 52. According to this report, the country needs to improve its performance in terms of institutional representation and access to education. Even though there is are slight changes in the 2019 report[1] and is confirmed by other development indices such as that of the United Nations Development Programme[2]. Although the situation seems to be very critical, the country has made significant progress in the regional and global stage with the country ranked at the 96th position of the 2021 GGG Index of the World Economic Forum before Ethopia, Egypt, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire[3]; there is more to do locally especially with the women in the northern region of Cameroon.

The North of the country, populated by a majority of patriarchal ethnic groups, has been designated as a Priority Education Zone by the Cameroonian Government. Gender issues are more precarious in those regions than in the rest of the country. The young girl in the North has difficulty gaining access to education, is sent off to an early marriage or is stopped in her tracks by an early pregnancy. And even if she manages to overcome all of these obstacles, social constraints soon drag her down or at least maintain the status quo ante[4], weakening her and imposing a formal ban on her dreams because she is subject to economic, psychological and even physical pressure from her legal guardians or close relatives. And ultimately, frightened and even complicit silence of those around them only perpetuates this dehumanisation of being weakened and relegated to the background of life in society.

Women in the Sahel are invisible. In a society ruled mainly by ultra-patriarchal rules, they are hardly perceptible and weigh little in the balance of the enjoyment of economic, human and institutional opportunities.

The acquisition, possession and sometimes even the simple use of property are a real luxury for the Sahelian women who are not entitled to their deceased fathers’ inheritance because « girls are made to get married ». And according to this logic, they no longer belong to their natural families, but to those of their husbands, who then become masters of everything they own. Thus, to prevent a family’s assets from being dispersed, it is practically impossible for them to have access to the land and real estate of the deceased.

The pattern is not so different when it comes to entrepreneurship and small-scale trade. A tour of the periodic and rural markets shows that there is a strong presence of women who are either buying and reselling basic commodities or producing and reselling market garden produce, small-scale livestock and subsistence farming, or even traditional brewery production. Although they are at the forefront, they enjoy very little entrepreneurial impetus, which most often results in the management of basic household needs on a day-to-day basis without any real long-term investment plan. This is when the husband, father or legal guardian does not take over the hard-earned financial benefits.

The perception of women and issues affecting their development as human beings must also take into account factors such as education, sexual and reproductive health, early, child and forced marriages and gender-based violence in general. Even though the schooling rate of young girls is low in Cameroon with a 13 points gap to be filled at the level of basic education[5], an additional effort must be made in the northern regions of the country that occupy the last places in the ranking[6]. In fact, the higher the level, the fewer girls are found in schools. They progressively leave classrooms for delivery rooms and/or for households at an early age.This is due to certain prejudices such as those who say that school “spoils” girls or those who stipulate that an educated woman will not make a submissive wife.

This almost systematic removal of women from society is also perceptible in politics. Although women are the main base from which politicians draw their legitimacy, because of their statistical weight, they are hardly ever elected. Most of the time, they play an ornamental, decorative and figurative role, just good to cheer and sing during political rallies. Women’s political participation relies more on “followingism” than on a decided and assumed leadership, reflecting a strongly masculinised conception of power in general and of political power in particular.

And yet the government and the elites would benefit from investing in women, because even without significant means, they hold a whole system in their hands. By giving birth to them, feeding them and educating them. Far from militant and passionate considerations, women are really at the heart of our societies and at the heart of the change and hollistic transformation of their communities. Interestingly, it has been said that the place of women are in the kitchen. The objective of this affirmation was to keep ladies out of the decision making place, here represented by the living room or the Palaver tree where only men are allowed to make their voices heard. Truth is that, women’s place is not only in the kitchen, but in the inner kitchen of development.  Their capacities for resilience and adaptation must be role models for decision-makers to build on in order to create public policies and initiatives that will decisively launch the Sahelian community on the path of development and Cameroon’s much desired emergence.

Is it not on this silent, delicate and obstinate leadership of women that the solution to the resilience equation of our societies lies? Isn’t it said that what woman wants, God wants too? Perhaps it is time to reconsider our cultural values (eroded by a falsified history in conjunction with a misogynistic globalisation) that has been too poorly embraced, in order to restore women to their rightful place in our contemporary societies, as it was the case in Africa in the past. One interesting case-study is the dispositions of Manden Charter proclaimed in Kurukan Fuga in 1235. Considered as the first ever decreed Human right Charter, this document has interesting contents for women participation in the decision making process. For example, it stipulates: “Women, apart from their everyday occupations, should be associated with all our management”[7]. Nkwame Nkrumah said it so well: « It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems (…) », and one of those problems is the restauration of women at the heart of our societies.


[1] https://www.afdb.org/en/documents/africa-gender-index-report-2019-analytical-report

[2]Human Development Indices and Indicators 2018 Statistical Update, PNUD

[3]http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf

[4] Mokam, David. (2012). Les chemins d’émancipation de la femme sahélienne camerounaise. 18. 61-81.

[5] https://www.voaafrique.com/a/scolarisation-des-jeunes-filles-encore-des-efforts-%C3%A0-fournir-au-cameroun/5475420.html

[6] http://www.bucrep.cm/index.php/fr/recensements/3eme-rgph/resultats/47-3eme-rgph/volume-ii–analyses-thematiques/126-resume-scolarisation-alphabetisation-instruction

[7] https://ambamali.ca/kouroukan-fouga/

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The Rebuntu House

HOW DO WE MAKE ENVIRONMENTALISM A PRIORITY IN OUR AFRICAN ECONOMY?

By Fontoh Desmond Abinwi, Okwelians Fellow 2021

The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”
— Zeno ~ 450 BC (from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers).

The pandemic has offered a great potential of reset, rethinking, and improving conditions needed to encourage environmentalism as a priority in our African economy.  Backtracking , reflecting, connecting, and acting together as a unified force will make our planet a safe space for all.   Promote Environmentalism.

Reflection: The planet is home to multiple groups of plants and animals that live on land, in the water, and up in the air, yet we all manage and struggle to live harmoniously most of the time. Regrettably, the beauty of nature is slowly fading as human activities continue to wreak havoc on the environment. Making environmentalism a priority in our current economy is now unavoidable.

The Concept of Environmentalism is used as a general term to refer to concerns for the environment and particularly actions or advocacy to limit negative human impacts on the environment.[i] Usually, the links between environmentalism and the economy are manifold: the environment provides resources to the economy and acts as a sink for emissions and waste. In the concept of environmentalism and economy, natural resources are essential inputs for production in many sectors, while production and consumption also lead to pollution and other pressures on the environment. Poor environmental quality, in turn, affects economic growth and well-being by lowering the quantity and quality of resources or due to health impacts, etc.[ii]


Further, many countries all over the world are experiencing rapid urbanization. Technology is also a big part of our lives and economy, which is not always environment-friendly. It’s the main reason why making environmentalism a priority, has arrived quite earlier than expected because the planet is changing at a rate never seen in the past. The population has also exploded exponentially. Several billions of people compete for the world’s natural resources that are sadly finite. The time will come when we’ll run out of non-renewable energy sources and live in an inhospitable planet and economy that will make daily living doubly more challenging.


Most progressive countries use fossil fuels because they are convenient to use but there are other renewable sources such as Wind energy, Geothermal energy, Solar energy, Biomass energy, and Hydropower which we can also tap into that won’t harm the environment. Not only are they safe to use, but they are also sustainable. The environment should not always suffer for the sake of economic prosperity but one sector can’t do it all alone.

 
In this context, making environmentalism a priority in our current economy is more than necessary to ensure a sustainable and green economy. Before moving forward, it is worth noting that you can live without food for a while but you cannot live even a minute without clean air and water. Awareness about environmentalism is an essential feature of a proper life today. We must continue to create consciousness about the environment and teach it at school and college levels[iii]. Governments, private institutions, civil societies, and individuals should take new measures to make environmentalism a priority, set sustainability goals and solemn pledges for a safer environment. Major stakeholders should always adopt integrated, participatory, and down-top approaches in decision making and policy implementation, promoting youth advocacy and making their voices heard. Further, encouraging good governance, environmental education, and indigenous knowledge in environmentalism solutions must be made a priority. Inclusive and collaborative action will continue to trigger conscious behaviors in environmentalism locally and globally.


The solution: Promoting Environmental education in school curriculums is necessary, this will permit young kids to grow up with the spirit of Environmentalism and constantly applying these teachings in all sectors especially the economic sector. Their conscious behavior should be transformed to promote change and live with the spirit of Environmentalism. In the present day, environmentalism plays a great role in economic growth.  Public and private sectors need to adapt and strengthen their efforts to encourage collaboration and a unified thought as the damage is already extensive, and we need all the help we can get to turn things around for the better. According, to (EnvEco studies 2018), it was estimated that collaborative economies can save up to 7% of household budget spending and reduce waste by 20% if the market operates under favorable conditions.


The employment effects of making environmentalism a priority in economies also have a positive outcome on the overall economy. Environmentalism measures often promote labor-intensive sectors and replace imports with domestic value-added, the net employment results of environmentalism are often also positive. Various studies have shown that ambitious environmentalism targets can create more jobs, for example, due to the expansion of renewable energy or efforts to increase energy efficiency. Measures to increase (raw) material efficiency can also have significant positive employment consequences. Also, Investments in integrated environmental technologies and efficiency measures can generally lead to many cost savings at the operational level.


 Again, strengthening environmental policies and good governance can curb the negative feedback from the economy on the environment and vice-versa. How effective and transformative the environmental policies and good governance are, and whether they generate a net benefit or a net cost to society is the subject of much debate and depends on the way they are designed and implemented. Environmental policies can contribute to a structural shift in economies thereby promoting growth and jobs associated with cleaner, more efficient products, services, and processes. Lastly, cost-effective policy interventions could be adopted in the short and medium terms to support sustainable development goals.

Thus, to conclude, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Together we can make our dream of environmentalism a reality and stand in a unifying voice to serve Mother Nature. Change starts with you, always think locally and act globally.

Sources:

https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/en/economy-environment

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10640-020-00493-2

https://www.oecd.org/economy/greeneco/global-forum-on-environment-2016.htm

https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/6700

https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer/2010/synthesis/synthesis/chapter8.xhtml

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/enveco/studies.htm

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/12/5233


[i] (Science Direct 2018).

[ii] (OECD 2016).

[iii] (Economictimes2015).

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The Rebuntu House

THE STATE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR IN CAMEROON

By Massoma Haddison, Okwelians Fellow 2021

In the past century there has been a great advancement in technology worldwide which has led to the transformation of the agricultural industry in many nations of the world. Africa has not yet harnessed up to half of its potential in the agricultural sector. The coming of COVID-19 has further exposed the vulnerability of our agricultural sector by showing how dependent Africa in general and Cameroon in particular are on food imports. ”From 2016 to 2018 Africa imported about 85% of its food from outside the continent, leading to an annual food import bill of $35 billion”(UNCTAD)[1].  With the changes in technology, population growth and the pandemic, perspectives have been changed and our nation is now compelled to take a more critical look at this very important sector.

Agriculture represents a major component of the structural transformation of the Cameroonian economy. Indeed, the increase in agricultural productivity should have a positive impact on industrial sectors, particularly agro-industry.[2] The agricultural sector in Cameroon accounted for 42.87% of total employment in 2020 according to world bank statistics and represents more than half of the country’s exports[3]. Cameroon has about 70% arable land which is still unexploited, and the industry is currently unable to meet production targets for major export products such as palm oil and cocoa. Between 2014 and 2018, the volume of yearly cocoa production in Cameroon rose from 281,000 tons to 336,000, but “the ministry of agriculture writes, ‘the target of 600,000 tons by 2020 will probably not be met.’”[4]  In this current state of excess demand which is growing exponentially, there is evidence of a greater need for technological integration in order to boost productivity to meet up with the unfed and rising demand.

Population growth, an emerging middle class and urbanisation constantly increase the demand for agricultural products with more people buying rather than cultivating their own food. And with economic expansion comes higher purchasing power. There is a need for a more efficient food production process that reduces wastage at all stages of the agricultural value chain and enables farmers to increase yields. Access to technology also brings more awareness to diet variety as the population is more conscious of healthier food choices. With Africa being expected to double its population by 2050,[5] there is a greater necessity for players in the agricultural sector to harness new and existing technologies to foster the production qualities and capacities required to meet up with the current and exponentially growing demand. Technological innovations and digitization offer an opportunity to boost transformation of Cameroonian agriculture.

Technological advancement and integration make available various solutions, including…

Mobile apps that provide the simplest services, such as text messages to deliver economic advice to small holder farmers, to more complicated solutions like plant scanners that determine plant health and identify disease. Precision Agriculture or smart farming is based on the use of advanced technology in the management of crops to increase output without compromising quality. Drone technology to monitor farms. In agriculture, an important use for drones is thermal imaging. Multi-spectral sensors are mounted on a drone, which gives farmers a valuable picture of how their crops perform. These sensors allow a farmer to precisely apply needed water, fertilizers, or pesticides only where they are needed instead of applying the same amounts across the entire field.[6]Further, smart irrigation allows for monitoring soil moisture levels, automating irrigation processes, reducing water use and more efficient consumption of resources. Farmers networks that give local farmers access to quality resources and to a broad market, thus fostering productivity and sales.

Logistic issues like appropriate packaging; automation; continuity of supply; and consideration of weather, road, and container conditions are now tackled by new tech-based companies that enable harvesters to transport and store their harvest in the best conditions, thus minimizing waste.[7]

Some start-ups across Africa are providing technology-based solutions for the sector:

A Cameroonian company helps farmers fight crop diseases using artificial intelligence in an application that diagnoses the diseases through images. This helps curb loses due to plant disease and enables farmers to maximize their output.

A Kenyan agri-tech company installs green houses for farmers and provides them with modern farming solutions that increase crop and farmer’s efficiency.

There is an agri-tech company that provides data to farmers to maximise efficiency in various parts of the value chain, enabling them to make more money from their produce.

A Cameroonian agri-tech enterprise leverages technology to improve cocoa production and quality.

Further, there is a Cameroonian agri-tech company that specializes in aquaponics which is a field of modern agriculture focused on producing fish and vegetables without chemical fertilizers[8]

These start-ups among many others are making available solutions for problems faced all along the value chain. We can now monitor water content, soil quality, crop health and fertilizers using satellite data. Machine learning, automation and sensors have increased precision in operations. Farmers are more connected to financial services, unlimited information, data services, partners and the market through mobile applications.[9]

Notwithstanding all of these opportunities, local farmers, who account for approximately 75% of the actors in the sector, do not have access to such technology because they are generally small-holder rural farmers who have limited literacy and are unable to afford basic technological products and services. Furthermore, there is a lack of infrastructure that leaves a great percentage of the industry lagging behind while the country aims for exponential advancement.

While there are a few industrial challenges, there is an evolving trend of digitalization of farming systems, related services and information which has gotten young people more interested in the sector. This interest can be transformed into very rich investments of finance and labour.[10]

What is the way forward?

Our government actively contributes to the growth of the agricultural sector, and remarkable progress is being made. Firstly, knowledge is the bedrock for everything great. Thus, to begin the transformation of this sector, a lot of investment has to be put into educating actors in the various levels of the value chain. This will enable them to broaden their knowledge and open their minds to new possibilities.

Secondly, with trust and accountability being major issues for both local and foreign investors, systems could be put in place to keep record of farms and landowners in a database that is easily accessible. Following this, the government and private sector would be able to practice “precision investment” like precision farming.

These government-led actions, followed by private sector involvement, will give us access to more information about this industry, including what fertile and unused land to exploit;  the most compatible crops, resources and activities to carry out; the most suitable investors/investments for such activities; ways to maximize output from current activities; innovation with technology-based solutions in the industry; and finally  how to gain a greater market share for our economy.

Our untapped resources coupled with growing digital technology unlock enormous potential for all stakeholders to boost efficiency of food production and consumption in Cameroon and in Africa. From top-grade seedlings to precision farming, sensor technology, vertical farming, drones, crop health applications, transportation and logistics, these solutions all along the value chain could yield major economic benefits. This has the potential to make our nation a super producer in the agricultural sector. /-




[1] https://unctad.org/news/covid-19-threat-food-security-africa

[2] SND30,3.2n129

[3] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.FE.ZS?locations=CM&view=chart

[4] https://www.businessincameroon.com/tags/agriculture

[5] https://theconversation.com/why-africa-offers-growing-opportunities-for-agricultural-products-45718

[6] https://www.agritechtomorrow.com/article/2017/08/how-do-drones-help-farmers/10153/

[7] https://agfundernews.com/no-more-rotten-tomatoes-improving-agricultural-logistics-through-technology.html

[8] https://www.nanalyze.com/2019/02/agtech-startups-africa/

[9] .https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-and-digitization-will-transform-africa-into-a-global-powerhouse/

[10]https://www.appsafrica.com/5-agritech-startups-helping-farmers-across-the-continent/