by Arison Tamfu
With his muddied bare feet and machete in hand, Ferdinand Tatah trudged down the hillside to his plantain plantation in Idenau, a coastal town in southwestern Cameroon.
He chose and cut several giant bunches of plantains, which will be transported to Cameroon’s commercial hub of Douala, to be weighed, graded and sold.
“This is my life. I do this every day. I was born into plantain farming,” said the 50-year-old father of five.
A stretch of favorable weather has led to a bumper crop for Tatah and many others in the central African nation where many people, buffeted by a difficult economy, are turning to farming to make ends meet.
“Farming has never failed anyone. That is why I have invested much in this — my two-hectare plantain farm,” Tatah said as he strolled through his farm.
The plantain, a savory variety of bananas, plays a crucial role in Cameroon’s food security. It is considered one of the staple foods and a reliable source of starch for many. It can be boiled, fried, and roasted.
According to Cameroon’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, plantains account for 16 percent of farmers’ income and 4.3 percent of Cameroon’s agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).
Plantain output in the country is estimated at over 5.4 million tonnes a year.
Cameroon wants to become the world’s leading producer of the crop by 2030, with an annual production of 10 million tonnes, to strengthen and preserve national food security and increase farmers’ income, said Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Gabriel Mbairobe.
“Cameroon’s desire to become an emerging country by 2035, depends on the development of production, processing and distribution activities for our various agricultural and pastoral products which offer real employment and wealth opportunities for our population,” Mbairobe said. “The government is determined to support the plantain industry in various ways.”
The country, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, is working to establish a plantain processing plant in Bangem, in the Southwest region, the first-ever in the region that produces over 30 percent of the country’s plantains.
“This plant will facilitate the production of three tonnes of plantains per day,” Mbairobe said.
Mbairobe spoke to Xinhua recently in the seaside resort town of Limbe, which hosted the second edition of the International Plantains Festival.
Tatah brought several bunches of plantains to exhibit at the festival.
“For us farmers, this is a rare opportunity to show the world our products and to look for new buyers and partners,” he said.
Samuel Tony Obam Bikoue, heads the National Association of Actors of the Banana-Plantain Sector in Cameroon, which organized the festival.
Farmers will benefit from high-quality fertilizer and capacity-building on production, packaging and transport techniques, he said.
“That will lead to high yields, which will be able to respond to ever-increasing local and international demand,” Bikoue said.
The festival witnessed the signing of agreements with three firms.
One of the agreements, signed with CAMAGRI, an agricultural company, will allow for the application of drones in plantain cultivation.
“With 10 people in 10 days, you can spray or fertilize the field. Now you can use only two people in three days using the drone,” said Murat Kimick, who signed on behalf of CAMAGRI. “When pests are on the field, if you are fast (in spraying insecticide) they cannot destroy much, but if you are slow, you will lose the crops. So with us using the drone, we are going to kill (the) pests before they start destruction.”
Tatah hopes that the government will do more to help farmers like him move their produce to the market.
“Most of these plantains are being transported by motorcycles, and it is really difficult because of bad roads,” he said. “The roads are really bad.”
Mbairboe acknowledged that it was “a real problem” that would be addressed “as soon as possible.”
Agricultural production is a priority of the national push to modernize the economic and productive system, and there is no turning back in Cameroon’s drive to boost plantain production, the minister said.