Sifting priorities: Cooperative members process black-eyed beans. Mayramou manages the cooperative’s produce until members are ready to sell so they can maximize profits. Photo Credit: WFP/Glory-Ndaka

Women’s cooperative adds spice to livelihoods, refugee integration

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”M” dropcap_content=”ARIE Hamidou, a pepper farmer in Mayo-Moskota in Cameroon’s troubled Far North region, wears a smile on her face because of the regular rich harvests from their group farm.”]

Though the mother of four doesn’t own land, she is part of Klakil Farmers’ Cooperative, a 47-member group, that feeds the town of Mayo-Moskota. In 2021, cooperative received support from the government and the World Food Programme (WFP) in the form of fertilisers, financial aid and machines to transform pepper production. Thanks to the support they now harvest over 100 kg of pepper from their seven-hectare farm.

Its members include longtime MayoMoskota residents but also displaced people like Marie, who fled the Boko Haram insurgency that has gripped the northern region of Cameroon.

“The financial and equipment support has really helped us not only produce better but also processing and transforming our harvest into liquid form and bottling,” says Marie.

The programme supports cooperatives in 10 Far North communities, helping members to manage their finances, increase their harvests, get through the lean seasons, and earn a profit in the markets.

In partnership with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the programme also offers logistical support to the cooperatives, and funding to develop village savings and loans associations.

The refugee women, who had their food aid cut in 2020, say that without the support they would be unable to feed themselves, educate their children or take care of their health. Marieclaire Nkwenti, WFP Cameroon’s programme assistant for livelihoods and resilience, says the women are also trained on marketing strategy.

“Thanks to the training they can now sell produce at fair, bargain prices to large retailers, schools, supermarkets — and even to WFP. Such investments enable members to finance further agriculture resilience-building projects,” she says Members of the cooperatives say they have gained market access and sell produce at fair, bargain prices. The project has proved valuable in many other ways, including integrating newcomers into the communities and empowering the women.

“The training has been a lesson of life, a skill that I will always have forever. This pepper farming has been an income provider for my family,” says Joan Awung, another member of the cooperative.

Although the farmers said they have more output this year compared to previous years, they also had to grapple with some challenges. “Our crop came out well this year compared to previous years. But we faced challenges of pests and diseases, which we used pesticides to tackle,” says Salisu Yabou, one of the pepper farmers.

Haruna Adella Idris, the president of the pepper farmers’ cooperative, cite lingering challenges with harvesting, bagging and logistics. “Transporting our products to the market is still a perilous task because of the poor state of the farm-tomarket roads. The situation is worse during the rainy season,” she says, adding that they need support in from the government and other relevant development organisations to address the logistics problem.

But despite the short comings, the farmers say working together as a team makes the pepper production much easier. “We work as a family though coming from different backgrounds,” Haruna says. In Mayo-Moskota and other participating communities, cooperative members say they have forged some of their most enduring friendships.

Among them are people who have fled the devastating effects of recurrent droughts and floods on crops and livelihoods, in search of better growing conditions. “We have made new friends and easily relate with one another. This project has really reinforced our cooperation and shown us that, together, we can build buoyant communities,” says Joan.

As they work together harvesting produce with the local farmers, stories are shared of experiences that help to build stronger bonds. They have all become friends and family to each other. “Our cultivation land is limited. We are hoping the government can give us more land so we can increase production and extend our markets,” says Joan.

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