A letter from Christi Boyd in Cameroon
February 26, 2010
To all who care about our ministries,
“It’s too much for me to cope! They are going to crush all of us, small farmers.“ Salomon was overcome by the shocking blow he was dealt earlier in the day. I had just arrived in Cameroon’s agricultural hub to visit our Fair Fruit producers, and was checking in at the reception of the town’s only hotel. That morning last week, Salomon had gone to his field to continue planting pineapple shoots now that the first rains had heralded in the upcoming wet season. But to his great surprise he had found the ground uprooted and the plants piled up on the roadside. As it turned out, the landowner, who had leased him the parcel only a couple of months earlier, had sold his property to the transnational fruit company implanted in this fertile region. Without title to the land or even a rental contract signed, Salomon and three of his peers who were confronted with the same situation were left no choice but to accept the compensation offered by the landlord, and his helping hand to transport the shoots elsewhere.
For Salomon, the experience made him relive the painful memories of an earlier expulsion in 2007, when he was forced off a different plot together with 15 other farmers. Bitter and fearful of not being able to control his emotions, Salomon didn’t want to elaborate on that experience except to say that it had cost the lives of two of his children. Already in 1999 another group of 19 farmers had been evicted, allegedly without proper compensation measures. They were less fortunate then than Salomon feels they are this time around; he doesn't blame so much the landlord, and prefers to leave in good terms. But he is exasperated to see the transnational company close in on the little land left for the community to farm. Besides, he says, the fruits that are disqualified for export are dumped on the local market for a quarter of the price that the farmers receive for their crops. Soon this inequitable situation will make it impossible for the farmers to maintain their livelihood, leaving their children to become day laborers in the company’s plantations.
This situation is what brought our Cameroonian Joining Hands partners of RELUFA* to focus on this particular community for the development of a Fair Trade dried fruit project. Not only would the activity help the afflicted farmers and the dryers to improve their living standards, but the product itself tells their story and also that of the many producers worldwide whose livelihoods are being suffocated by foreign interests. Besides, RELUFA’s program goes beyond a mere commercial, albeit Fair Trade, activity. The network has started to offer the farmers legal assistance in their law suits, and through our micro-finance program Credit Against Poverty we have for some of them supported the educational needs of their children or their wives’ small enterprise, and for others the expansion of their agricultural activities.
The newest component of the producers’ accompaniment by RELUFA is an irrigation project for our Fair Fruit farmers. During the 5-month long dry season, the yields diminish greatly with some of the crops coming to a near stand still. Research on appropriate irrigation tools had led us to high quality manual pumps manufactured in Nairobi. Jeff’s meeting in Kenya earlier this month provided a great opportunity to immediately purchase and test one of the pumps. This is how last week we held a first demonstration for all farmers on how to set up and utilize the pump and its accessories.
We spent two consecutive days trying out the system in their individual fields, each with its own particular setting. Once the farmers held the sprinkler in their otherwise un-irrigated field, their initial skepticism made room for pride and enthusiasm. The results will most likely be even better with the larger and heavier model we will introduce later on.
Bolstered by RELUFA’s greater Trade Justice program, the hope that our Fair Fruit project brings to these marginalized farmers may be most tangible in Etienne’s story. A registered organic pineapple producer, who had seen his experimental field demolished in the 1999 eviction, Etienne has been passing on his expertise to the next generation of farmers but never since picked up the trade again himself. What a joy to learn that over the course of the last eight months and one row at the time, Etienne has been planting a new organic pineapple field eleven years after his ordeal. What a true blessing to be shown around by him and be touched by his faith in a better future through our Fair Fruit project!
You, too, have the opportunity to partake in our church’s life-giving ministries. The most important way to do that right now is through the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering, which over the years has helped support RELUFAR’s various initiatives through the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, as well as through Self-Development of People. Your congregation can further help by promoting our dried mango, pineapple, papaya, and banana products, which make for a delectable supplement if you are already organized around Fair Trade coffee and chocolate. A partnership box from Partners for Just Trade will give you the very best deal!
As you celebrate this Easter life beyond death, please join Christ’s mission “that [all] may have Life and have it abundantly“ (John 10:10).
With gratitude for the privilege to serve through Presbyterian World Mission,
*RELUFA is the French acronym for Network Fighting Hunger in Cameroon
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 43