Posts Tagged With: Heifer Cameroon

One woman’s nightmare is another man’s dinner.

For your sake and mine, this is going to be a really short post about a really big thing. And that thing is a Cane Rat.

I’m not afraid of much, but I am jump-on-the-table terrified of mice and their unspeakable older cousin, the R-word. Nevertheless, when I heard that Heifer had a project in Ndobo village, outside Douala, empowering poor communities there to raise, breed and eat Cane Rats—a delicacy greatly savored by Cameroonians– I knew I had to go, no matter what the psychic damage.

Not photo-shopped, I was really there!

And go I did. I met with the sweet folks making up the project group GIC Debrouillards (“Overcoming Group”) in the middle of a very poor, boisterous neighborhood. The members have a communal farm 3 km. from town where they grow cassava, corn and vegetables, but their real strength is the 64 rats they received from Heifer, which have now multiplied to (god forbid) hundreds of 30-pound meatballs that they have sold for $30-$50 apiece…or eaten.

Okay, the photos suck but that’s because I couldn’t bring myself to look through the lens…

Heifer helped the farmers build the giant $110 steel cages that are about the size of a big Ikea bookshelf and can fit in the back of a house. The folks were also schooled in raising cotton grass and given seeds to grow feed; and given animal husbandry techniques to keep the rats healthy and strong (I didn’t think you had to encourage that).

Ahh, a nice relaxing photo of cotton grass!

The rats can get pregnant when 8 months old, will have a 5-month gestation period, then give birth to 4-8 babies.  Those little cuties (not) weigh 300 grams at birth but in one to two years, they’ll weigh 6-8 kilograms and can be sold for a bundle on any street corner, particularly during the holidays when people treat themselves to a nice big rat.

Sweet family man is sending his girls to school with money from his rats.

No, I did NOT taste Cane Rat roasted, grilled, fried or boiled in stew– but I can’t help but love what these critters have done for the Struggling Group. One man uses his rats to pay for his grandkids to go to the hospital when they get malaria (and everybody gets malaria). One man is using his to pay off his $1,000 hospital bill for cancer treatment. Another is sending his 9 children to secondary school– three of whom he adopted when their parents died.

Beautiful Ndobo girl carrying firewood.

I’d like to say that in Ndobo I learned that rats aren’t all bad. But actually, I merely learned that in Cameroon, any animal protein is good. In this country, the average animal protein consumption is just 30 kilos a year, (including almost 10 kilos milk)… and that’s not even 66% of the minimum consumption for health.

So if this program can get good food in people’s bellies, I will give a rat’s ass …… and happily.

Categories: Animals, Cameroon, Food, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Dead Hen Walking

After 16 years, Pauline’s favorite hen succumbed to Newcastle disease.

If you are a woman living in a village in the Far North of Cameroon, chances are you’ve been raising chickens since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. And chances are, every year in the cold dry months you’ve watched helplessly as your chickens stop eating, droop their wings, and begin listlessly walking in circles – then keel over and die. Despite the fact that these chickens account for most of your family’s income—and 16% of the country’s poultry—there’s been nothing you could do but watch your food & income perish.

Pauline & Madeline discuss their chicken losses.

This scourge of chickens is called Newcastle disease and although it’s been an affliction here in the Far North for years, little has been done to combat it. The day we visited Pauline Tcaday and Madeline Maylaou, two chicken farmers in Kar Hay, we saw the carnage first hand.

Two sick chicks, not long for this world.

Pauline’s flock of 100 birds had been totally healthy until she brought one new chicken home from the market. That chicken was infected and now her entire flock was dying. 53 of Madeline’s 56 chickens had perished in a single day. And almost overnight, the village population of 79,000 chickens had shrunk to 28,000 — a loss of about $170,000!

Norbert Mayla, chicken farmer of Kar Hay, tries to make sense of the epidemic.

Luckily, a plan is in action that will help 9,000 rural farm families like Pauline’s save their chickens– and the vital income & nutrition they represent. Heifer International, in collaboration with GALVMed(a non-profit global provider of livestock vaccines), and MINEPIA (Cameroon’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries) has started a pilot program in 40 rural villages to vaccinate 490,000 chickens against Newcastle disease – and it’s brilliant on about 5 different levels.

First, it’s a sophisticated, well-coordinated, thoughtful campaign based on research and epidemiology. The vaccine is highly effective in protecting against the disease and if every chicken were treated, Newcastle’s could effectively be wiped out in a few years. That’s not just chicken pot-pie thinking; it’s a potential reality.

The desired outcome..

But initiating a program this ambitious has been anything but simple. Heifer and team had to figure out the cold chain to keep the vaccine viable (in a country where electricity is spotty); adjust the dosage size so a vial could be administered in a single day; and find dependable, experienced people to see the program through.

Wyang Agah, Kar Hay’s AHCW.

Eight Animal Health Care Workers with diplomas in animal husbandry were hired and provided with 4 motorcycles to reach the 40 far-flung villages, and 4 solar refrigerators to keep the vaccine at its essential cool temperature in their vet stores.

The AHCW supervise the Village Vaccinators, two per village, who are local residents, literate, and have been trained to administer the vaccine to the chickens (by eyedrop). The Vaccinators have been given new bikes and insulated cooler boxes that will keep the vaccine fresh while they travel from the vet store to their villages.

Everybody’s excited about the new program (and the new Vaccinator bikes)!

They’re off and running…

The vaccine costs 50 francs (10 cents), administered 3 times a year. So for 30 cents annually, farmers can protect a chicken that will fetch $3-$5 in the market. What’s more, the 50-franc fee covers the price of the vaccine, the salary of the AHCW, and the Vaccinators – meaning the program is immediately self-sustaining, and everyone involved has a strong motivation to make it a success. And in late May this year, vaccinations began.

For farmers in the Far North, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Not only does chicken income pay for school tuition, health care and clothes, animal protein is already in perilously short supply, while the population is projected to grow by almost 30% in the next 5 years. With 38% of the children in the Far North currently malnourished, a strong, steady supply of chicken that the people could both eat and sell would be nothing short of a miracle.

Madeline’s feeling hopeful!

When I asked Pauline and Madeline if their families ate their chickens’ eggs or sold them, they burst out laughing. “We don’t eat eggs, we don’t sell eggs,” they said ruefully. “We don’t even eat our chickens. We’re poor and we have to sell them.”

But hopefully, those days are numbered.

Categories: Cameroon, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Poverty, slimed.

What could be a more perfect creation than a snail? Oh sure, they look kind of creepy, what with their long grasping tongues and rapacious need for water … and nobody would agree with that more than the Nkongsamba farmers in Groupe d’Initiative Commune (GIC) Placanamec, who started raising snails in this Heifer-sponsored project in 2010.

Daniel Nikanche, snail convert

“At first, we thought snails were from nasty, dark places in the forest and we didn’t want anything to do with them,” explained Daniel Nkanche, president of the GIC group. He’s right: snails live in the humid forests around Nkongsamba, Cameroon and are creatures of the night. In fact, they have been so voraciously hunted after dark, despite dangers of snake bites and violence, snails are endangered here in the wild.

But another group of farmers told the GIC Placanamec folks how rich the snails were in protein, minerals and iron; how good they were for children and for healing all kinds of maladies; and how delicious they tasted when cooked (escargot!). The group was also persuaded by the price snails fetch in the local market: $12 for a 15-liter bucket that would be snatched up immediately by eager buyers. So they applied to Heifer, whose staff was eager to protect the snails in the wild and foster an income-producing, nutrition-enhancing livestock program in this poor crossroads town where AIDS, prostitution and poverty has afflicted the population.

Slowly but surely, the Placanamec farmers (90% of them women) began to learn the intricacies of raising good snails.

First, you need to build a bamboo and wood hutch with available materials — that takes a few hours. You need good clean soil; paw-paw and sweet potato leaves for the snails to eat; forage for them to burrow and lay their eggs in; fresh clean water morning and evening to give the snails energy and happiness; and some kind of barricade (like a water moat) to keep out predators like millipedes, mice, rats and red ants.

Adults, babies & eggs

Then you sit back and let them eat, drink and reproduce. Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning the sistas/brothas are doing it for themselves, laying 5-9 eggs at a time, beginning when they are about 4 months old. Most species of snails will generally lay about 32 eggs in their lifetime, and the babies dig their way out of their shells and begin to grow in a week, fattened on a diet of ripe bananas and leaves. The snails are generally eaten after they’ve finished laying their eggs, at about 6 months to a year, when they are 150 grams or more.

But that’s just the tip of the follicle. In addition to the delicious meat they eat roasted or parboiled, the GIC folks use every single part of the snail to profit the family. The shells are ground up and eaten for the calcium to alleviate aches and joint pains, or applied to wounds to heal them faster. The waste parts of the snails are dried, ground, and used to feed chickens. And the slime … well, it’s collected into a skin serum that the women swear makes skin look younger, fresher and wrinkle-free.

My Heifer Cameroon guides snorted that no Western woman would use this product and I had to laugh. “Honey, American women would drink the stuff if they thought their skin would look like Marie’s.”

Marie Ediang, champion snail raiser & skin serum wizard.

And truly, the women’s skin here looked amazing! But maybe it was just the increased nutrition and financial security the snails offer? The families are now eating about 300 snails a month, and with their snail sales, families are able to pay children’s school fees, repair a roof, afford a cell phone, or connect electricity so “my house shines in the night!” one woman claimed proudly.

As we drove away, the Heifer staff were enumerating some of the issues still facing this pilot snail project: there has been some stealing from the hutches, and farmers are not quite meeting high demand in the market. But all I could think was snails =better nutrition for the family (kids love them so much, they’ll sneak into the cages to help themselves) + increased income (especially for women) in a country where malnutrition hovers around 30% and women make less than $1/day.

And then there’s the age-defying slime.

Snails anyone?

Quite frankly, I was ready to dive into the nearest shell myself.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Cameroon, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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