Walter Wilson Nana,
Cameroonian-born researcher and author, Jude Emmanuel Kebuma Tita, resident in Londerzeel, Belgium says the perception of the forest as an ‘economic safety net’ for the rural poor is receiving global attention. In this exclusive interview, he examines the role and potential of Gnetum Africanum, with local appellation – eru, while highlighting the importance of the plant in multiple spheres including trade, aliment and medicine.
What is the book Gnetum Africanum (Eru) In Poverty Alleviation And People’s Livelihoods all about?
It is about the plant; Gnetum Africanum, popularly known as eru. It is how people can use that plant to get out of poverty. It has been difficult, especially for young and subsistent farmers to get something good from what they have been doing. The book is for farmers to know how eru is cultivated, how it is taken from the bush, to the market, the prices in the market and how they can stand by it and gain something. The book also outlines methods which can be used to domesticate eru. It is a non-timber forest product, grown in the wild but it is possible to domesticate it now that it is becoming extinct. That is a problem we have to collectively look into. The idea is to make people understand the importance of the plant – eru and how they can use it to gain wealth. When I followed the market trends, I discovered that there is a lot of money changing hands in the transactions. That is enough potential for people to live on.
What is particular about Gnetum Africanum that we have to take it from the forest, to the market, to the dish and now into a book?
It is a God-given plant, natural, in the forest and locally made for consumption. You do not pay to get it. You just have to go to a forest and you will find it. You can plant and follow it up if you are interested. You do not spend a lot of money but the benefits are enormous. The market is there; especially in next door Nigeria, where we have information it is extinct out there. That is a big market for a Cameroonian farmer involved in eru cultivation to exploit. Even in Cameroon, millions of people are excited about eru. It is becoming scarce in the market because the production rate in the rainy season is low and in the dry season, it is high. This affects the market price and a lot can be gotten out of it. In the course of my research, I discovered that only a handful of individuals make the gains. The farmers are left out of the big show. All the trucks, carrying eru to Idenau, Fako Division, Southwest Region of Cameroon are owned by two individuals. And when you see all these financial resources get into the hands of few individuals, it is a course for concern. Something has to be done about it. That motivated me to write this book so as to create awareness within the government and private circles.
This is the time to mobilise the communities where eru is cultivated, especially in the Southwest and South Regions of Cameroon respectively so that people can benefit from their efforts. A bundle of eru is bought in Mamfe at FCFA 50 and sold at the Idenau port at FCFA 650. That is a lot of money in one part of the chain. The most lucrative business in the port of Idenau is eru. During the ‘eru market day’, the whole of Idenau vibrates. When I talked with the Chief of Customs in Idenau, he told me; eru brings life in Idenau as everybody is alive during transit to Nigeria and other West African countries. I gathered that eru brings money directly or indirectly to the community.
How can the eru plant be made sustainable?
Some work has to be done for now. Eru grows on life support, which means it grows only in the forest. You cannot domesticate a plant without creating an artificial forest. That has to be done first. Some plants, crops and trees take time to grow but others will take six or more months to be ready. CENDEP, an NGO in Limbe, has a demonstration farm, which has shown that it can work. We have to be enlightened and people can go to the forest or their farms and do the planting. With eru, it grows on life support and there is no problem unlike a plant like yam that you will need to support the creeping stems with a stick or a bamboo. The temperature has to be taken into consideration with trees shading the eru plant and making available the greenery atmosphere that goes with it.
This message of yours is in a book, how will it get down to the farmers involved?
The media has to be involved. Sensitisation campaigns and special programmes on radio and TV have to be produced and newspaper columns created to give visibility to the importance of eru. We have to work with the local authorities, use the dialects, get down to the communities, especially to those villages where eru is harvested. We have to explain to the people what is happening, how they can domesticate and market eru. It is about awareness and the civil society organisations should come in and play their own role. People have to know how it works and they will be interested.
Lambert Academic Publishing in Germany published Gnetum Africanum. How do we get it in Cameroon?
I am in contact with some Cameroonian publishers for circulation in the country. For now, you can get it online; www.amazon.com and www.morebooks.com. I am also discussing with some Cameroonian publishers on how we can do some productions on the ground in Cameroon.
Interviewed By Walter Wilson Nana