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Cameroonians are opting farming to stay away from Boko Haram

Cameroon is a neighbor to Nigeria where Boko Haram thrives. Ibrahim Hamaoua, traditional ruler of Zamai, said the assistance has reduced delinquency among the 30,000 people he leads.

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Local women in Cameroon. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Cameroon is a neighboring country of Nigeria. Boko Haram -an Islamic terrorist organization -has wreaked havoc in Nigeria and is spilling over to other African countries.

Cameroonian Yeguie Issa says he has not seen his only brother since they were contacted a year ago by visitors to their village and were offered $500 per month to join Boko Haram.

Issa, 29, did not accept the offer and now takes care of his poultry farm in Cameroon’s Zamai village, near the northern town of Mokollo. He got started with the help of chickens provided by the government and farming advice from U.N. staff.

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Cameroon borders Nigeria. Wikimedia Commons

As a result, Issa said, he is financially and physically more stable, and he can provide for his wife, three children, and 72-year-old mother — and peers no longer jeer at him for being unable to take care of his family.

Issa is one of several hundred people who have benefited from the U.N. initiative to steer youths away from Boko Haram, which has frequently attacked northern Cameroon over the past three years.

 Cameroon soldiers stand guard at a lookout post near the village of Fotokol as they take part in operations against the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, Feb. 25, 2015.

The coordinator of the U.N. system in Cameroon, Najad Rochdi, said the goal of the initiative is helping the area’s economy grow despite the continued violence.

Because the region was tragically and dramatically impacted by insecurity on the one hand and extreme violence, on the other hand, it was very important to provide the enabling environment for the revival of the local economy, capitalizing on the know-how of the people in the region,” Rochdi said. “Obviously, the know-how here is about agriculture, handicraft, agropastoral activities.”

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Military exercise, Wikimedia commons

Japan contributes

Cameroon has provided $4 million in emergency funds to create jobs for youths on its northern border with Nigeria, where the unemployment rate is over 90 percent. Japan has contributed $2 million to the U.N. for the second phase of the project, focused on the entire conflict zone in Cameroon.

Ibrahim Hamaoua, traditional ruler of Zamai, said the assistance has reduced delinquency among the 30,000 people he leads.

Hamaoua said he was grateful to the U.N. Development Program and the government of Cameroon for initiating the resilience project and constructing a livestock market to supply protein to both internally displaced persons and refugees. The project has boosted the local economy and improved the living conditions of the population that grow livestock, he said.

About a hundred meters from Issa’s poultry farm, Hamza Falama waters his one-hectare garden. He said the produce villagers grow — maize and sorghum during the rainy season, carrots, and cabbages during the dry season — enable them to send their children to school, take care of their health needs, feed their families and save for difficult moments.

Cameroon hopes to see more gardens grow, and fewer difficult moments in the north, in order to weaken Boko Haram. (VOA)

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This Bamboo Entrepreneur from Philippines Aims at Tackling Poverty and Climate Change

Philippines Bamboo Entrepreneur Digs In on Poverty and Climate Threats

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Bambuhay, a company in Philippines has sold nearly 400,000 reuseable bamboo straws. Lifetime Stock

Mark Sultan Gersava grew up in poverty, one of 12 children of a slash-and-burn subsistence farmer in the Philippines province of Sultan Kudarat.

Today he is the “chief executive farmer” of a company aimed at tackling that same poverty, and combating climate change at the same time.

His firm Bambuhay helps farmers shift from slash-and-burn agriculture – which accounts for about a third of deforestation in the Philippines – to growing bamboo, now in demand as an alternative material to throw-away plastic.

The company, now in its second year of operation, makes popular bamboo straws, toothbrushes, tumblers, and bamboo-based charcoal briquettes, to replace those made from wood.

So far Bambuhay has sold nearly 400,000 reuseable bamboo straws, Gersava said.

In late October, wearing a bamboo salakót, a traditional farmers hat, he told delegates to the One Young World conference of youth leaders in London what drove him to launch his company.

“In the span of one year, I experienced two super typhoons (and) the hottest measured temperature in Philippines history,” Gersava said.

Bamboo forest
A bamboo forest is pictured behind Suntory Holdings’ Yamazaki Distillery in Shimamoto town, Osaka prefecture, near Kyoto. VOA

“This was the first time I had faced the direct consequences of climate change,” he said.

Less Poverty, Fewer Emissions

Gersava settled on bamboo – a fast-growing plant that absorbs large amounts of climate-changing carbon dioxide and can help prevent soil erosion – as a way of taking action on both climate change and poverty.

The Philippines climate, he said, is perfect for growing the giant grass and has helped poor farmers “become agri-preneurs.”

The effort has helped cut extreme poverty for thousands of farmers so far, he says.

“Bamboo is a symbol of poverty in the Philippines. If you live in a bamboo house, you’re very poor – that’s basically how it was before,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But bamboo now has gained a lot of good attention since I started the company,” he said.

Bambuhay has partnered with the Philippines government and farmers to replant 540 hectares (1,340 acres) of deforested land through the company’s Bamboo AgroForestry Program, Gersava said.

Just how versatile bamboo fibre can be was evident in the entrepreneur’s own attire at the conference, including a sleek bamboo wallet and his cone-shaped hat, a golden salakót.

Such hats are usually made from reeds, but his was produced by farmers from bamboo – a gift in gratitude for his help in pulling them out of poverty, he said.

“When I wear this hat, I feel connected to the farmers. They are the one who are left behind,” Gersava said.

“They are the most important people that we that we need to protect. … We need to value these people more.”

Bamboo Business

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Bamboo straws stored in a jar on a table at the Copacabana restaurant on Yoff Virage beach in Dakar. VOA

Last year, Gersava sold his condominium, quit his job and with no formal business training and just $2,000 in start-up funds launched Bambuhay, his social enterprise.

“It’s very hard to start a business in the Philippines,” he said.

“There’s no support from the government, you have very limited funding. … I started with only one person.”

Now Gersava employs 17 full-time staff. He says as CEO his aim is not to become rich but to ensure much of what the company earns passes to its farmers.

Still, in addition to helping farmers, he’s been able to help pay college fees for his two nieces and support his siblings and parents, he said.

He says his work is far from done. By 2030, he aims for his company to have helped establish 1 billion bamboo plants and to have lifted 100,000 farmers out of poverty, especially in extremely poor areas such as his hometown and the province of Sulu.

Growing up in an impoverished family in Sultan Kudarat, he said, has given him a deep understanding of who pays the highest price as climate change impacts, from floods and droughts to heatwaves and storms, intensify.

“The wealthy CEOs and politicians are not the ones suffering the most from the consequences of climate change. It is the rural villager,” he said.

“It is the struggling farmers who are suffering from severe water shortages and droughts that will be the worst hit by food insecurity,” he predicted.

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To battle both poverty and climate change, “we cannot continue with business as usual,” he said.

“We must continue to innovate, to protest and to hold government and companies’ feet to the fire,” he said in a speech at the conference. (VOA)