Agriculture: Ultimate Way out of Poverty. Part 1
A desolate and long abandoned place with a health unit lacking even the most basic of of all drugs and equipment, a market square with the number of shades in use on a typical market day far outnumbering the number in use with many in ruins –abandoned by youths for greener pastures in town and a population living in conditions that violate their basic human rights. This is the picture I have since returning from a trip to my village after more than 10 decades of absence 2 years ago. with little or no hope of ever knowing the grandeur it had known before and slowly but surely dieing dieing
Bafmeng( my village) might be one of the most economically backward and socially challenged villages in Cameroon, it is far from being the worst-there are communities in a worst shape compared to this village.
But things in my village have not always been so.When I visited Bafmeng during my summer holidays in 1998, the picture of desolation, abandonment, and seeming hopelessness described above, was far-fetched because economic activities-mostly carried out by youths –were booming and all shades in the market occupied. Community clean-up campaigns and other socio-cultural activities were the order of the day.But that was then!
The effects of the economic crisis which hit Cameroon in the early 90s were surely still to be felt in Bafmeng up to the year 2000 when the village felt a pinch of the crisis. this is after Cameroon had implemented its austerity measures and the Structural Adjustment Plans imposed by the world bank and and the International Monetary fund.The neglect of rural areas led to the impoverishment of rural areas and their inhabitants.This is were it all began.
The neglect of rural areas and a lack of strategies to develop and open up these areas which are of strategic importance to a country like Cameroon which still has about half its population living in these areas greatly contributed to the declining food production,unregulated and uncontrolled urbanization, high crime wave in cities, pollution, prostitution,early marriages, unregulated births, increasing number of school drop outs, and child child trafficking which is so rampant in Cameroon.
Our rural areas are in prolonged comma from which they must be rescued so as not to die.They are agonising and slowly dieing without anybody raising even the smallest finger and need the care attention and treatment required to bring them back to their flamboyant and vibrant youthfulness of the pre-independence era.
But how can this be done?, one may ask. Saving rural areas from their agony requires more than just good intentions on the part of policy and citizens.It requires well thought and carefully designed policies which not only aims at improving the life of rural area dwellers but making these areas attractive. This could be done only if the greatest cause of rural area decline is tackled-rural exodus.
51.3 percent of Cameroonian live town while 49.7 percent of which 43.5 percent are of ages below 15 and 51 percent of rural area dwellers are women. This is the trend in most developing countries especially since independence where youths young men and women with dreams of living more decent and satisfying lives than their parents, and aspirations of living in free and modern world are pushed to the move to the cities where they think all their dreams and aspirations will be met. But when this dreams are shattered by the lack of opportunities in town they resort to drug abuse, alcohoolism,crime and prostitution.
Rural exodus, rather than cosmetic changes made by Cameroon’s government by creating more schools and universities in town to cater for the influx of people from rural areas is thus the problem to be solved if rural areas are to be revamped and agricultural production increased to meet the current shortage which in February 2008 led to riots and unrest in the country by youths.
The solution to rural exodus is simply turning its push factors into pull factors for rural areas so that we can get an urban-exodus. These factors will be examined in the second part of this reflection.
Kwa Gaston Fosah
Action Partner of the Oxfam Internation Youth Partnerships(OIYP) Cameroon