Posted on 15 February 2022
Roberty Essama, WWF Cameroon, on priority themes for impact entrepreneurs
Over one hundred local businesses have responded to the local call for proposals for Mobilising More For Climate (MoMo4C) from Ngoyla and Yokadouma councils in Cameroon. How can these entrepreneurs help preserve biodiversity and nature in their home country?
Roberty Essama, Business & Industries Coordinator at WWF Cameroon, on what the country needs and how the private sector can help.
National and regional radio stations, social media, visits to local communities, and video spots on national TV stations: all helped to spread the message that MoMo4C wanted to share with the people of Cameroon. Send in your business proposal on how to make an impact in your home country, and maybe MoMo4C can help you pursue that. As it turns out, there were a lot of entrepreneurs with great ideas on how to make impact: more than one hundred local businesses heeded the call and submitted proposals.
Roberty Essama, Business & Industries Coordinator at WWF Cameroon, still sounds surprised when he talks about the numbers. "This is our first call for proposals, we did not expect that so many people would apply."
One of the reasons so many people applied lies in the support that is offered. Cameroon is a country with a lot of great entrepreneurial ideas, Essama states. “We see a lot of people who own businesses, who have great ideas. But to nurture a good idea and let it grow, they often need some technical support or knowhow of other entrepreneurs can help their ideas take off.”
That's where Mobilising More for Climate (MoMo4C) comes in. This is a five-year programme (2019 – 2024) of IUCN Netherlands, WWF Netherlands and Tropenbos International, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It brings together entrepreneurs, companies, policymakers, investors and civil society actors to make green business propositions that tackle the impacts and causes of climate change at a landscape level in developing countries.
Cocoa and deforestation
The proposals sent in show a great variety: from agroforestry to apiculture and from non-timber forest products to e-learning platforms.
Many of the projects focus on agriculture, one of the biggest commercial sectors in the country. "By tackling problems in this sector, we kill two birds with one stone. Not only do we make sure farmers can have more income by embracing sustainable agricultural practices, which increases yields and give them greater access to the market. This way, they also protect the environment they live in."
At the beginning of the project three pillars were targeted where the most impact can be made. One of them is stopping deforestation. "The cocoa plant is the main crop cultivated by rural communities, especially in the forest areas. Farmers get a good income out of it, but because of low productivity, they are tempted to expand their farms. By doing so, they destroy the forest to plant more cocoa plants. We want to preserve biodiversity, by teaching cocoa farmers how to get more income out of their current plantations."
While a cocoa farm can be developed under a forest cover, other crops need more sunlight trees are holding back. Farmers, therefore, at a large scale cut the forest to plant food crops, which is not a good practice for such a fragile ecosystem. "There is a lot of land that has been cleared of trees by slash and burn agricultural practices and later left fallow. We need to enrich such soil again and use it to plant crops in agroforestry system or let new trees grow on it."
Another pillar consists of the production of non-timber forest products (NTFP). There are two challenges here that we face, Essama explains. First of all, there's the fruit that comes from trees. "During the harvest, some farmers cut the whole tree down to get the fruit or other foods like honey out. We want to show them how to harvest in a sustainable way, so the trees can blossom multiple years."
Another threat to the NTFPs is the use of chemicals. "By promoting organic farming methods, we are able to protect biodiversity." Essama cites the caterpillar larvae as an example. "People use it in cooking and eat them, but the chemicals now used kill this insect."
Support from the private sector
One overarching solution that Essama sees for these pillars is education. As an example, he cites farmers' crops that often do not reach end users. "They often don't know how to conserve it, so some of the crops get bad before they reach the market. By helping farmers solve these problems, we help them to get a better price for their products."
Essama himself learned many lessons like this during his time at agro-industrial companies, such as Olam, a large multinational food producer at which he was responsible for oil palm plantations in Gabon. "I've learned a lot about doing business and rigor in day-to-day management. I think that is one important thing we can support our rural communities in. They waste a lot of energy and resources, which can make them money rather than cost them."
But Essama also learned a lesson he would like to pass on to the private sector. "When you want to do business here, you need to be patient. Make sure there is a clear link between the money you spend and the conservation and impact it has on the country."
If those points are taken into consideration, Essama sees a bright future for the private sector. "We cannot leave the sustainable development of countries solely to development aid. There are so many great opportunities and great ideas here, all they need is a helping hand to make them successful."