Agoh Mary, a successful commercial rice farmer in Ndop in the North West of Cameroon says she has every reason to smile as she now does not only own land to invest and produce more but has also been rescued from climate change scare.
The 52 year-old mother of four tills daily in her impressive rice farm, thanks to a research project of the Upper Nun Valley Development Authority (UNVDA) that is helping them deal with climate variability and fight against poverty.
One soon learns that gender and age is just nothing but nature and numbers on arrival at her exquisite and vast rice farm, strategically nestled in the centre of the vast plain in Ndop, Northwest of Cameroon.
Farming over 15 hectares of land, Mary says she comfortably feeds her family and sells the surplus to wholesale buyers to raise family income.
“In the past I could not do commercial rice farming because I could only cultivate on limited rented land. Now I have the opportunity to own land and have worked hard to increase my yields and support our family income.”
She adds that unlike before when her vegetable farm on rented land was exposed to excessive rains and floods, making harvest relatively poor and dwindling family income, commercial rice farming on her newly acquired land has improved livelihood for her and family.
In a country where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, her family is today counted among the wealthy.
Women in Ndop unanimously agree their lives have significantly improved since they engaged in commercial rice farming that rescued them from the effects of climate change.
“With rice farming we don’t have any reason to fear from erratic climate,” says Juliette Ngamsi, another rice farmer.
Over 300 women farmers in Ndop in the Northwest of Cameroon are now involved in commercial rice farming. This is mostly as a result of the Upper Nun Valley Development Authority (UNVDA), a government agro- industry to revamp and support commercial rice farmers in the region.
Land rights for Women?
In many communities in Africa, traditional norms give mostly men the privilege to own land, experts say. But increasingly the trend is changing thanks to pressure from women themselves and other development stakeholders.
“Traditional norms are not fair to women in most African countries. Women are seen as ‘property’ that will be eventually sold away to another family and so are refused the right to own family land,’’ Bridget Ngang says.
Women farmers in most African countries according to a 2013 report by Rights and Resource Initiative (RRI) are the most disenfranchised in spite their numerical strength.
And although women produce 80 percent of Cameroon’s food needs according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, they own just two percent of the land.
The Ndop women say they fought a good fight to defend their rights for the wellbeing of their families and community and hope this should be replicated in all communities where women are disenfranchised.
“But we stood firm to defend our rights after we were sensitized by officials of African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF). “Thanks to the UNVDA support, I have been able to pay school fees for my children and medical bills from the sale of my rice harvest,” remarked Bridget proudly.
The Cameroon law grants women the same rights as men to access, own and control of land, and allows them to participate in decision-making on land matters but customary norms have made it hard for women to obtain land in their own right.
Cameroon is in the process of developing a new family law, which will govern issues of property rights. The law will hopefully be another step in helping women realize the constitutional promise of equality according to Cameroon’s minister of women and the family, Marie Therese Abena Ondoa.
Experts are delighted the with government’s recognition of that exclusion of female farmers in mainstream commercial agriculture activities is not sustainable as it undermines food security.
“Commercial agriculture will play key role in achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals in Africa and the contribution of women to this drive cannot be ignored,” says Zachee Nzoh Ngandembou, coordinator of the Center for Environment and Rural Transformation (CERUT) an NGO in the Southwest region Cameroon.