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Tuesday
Dec072010

Letter from Lindsay, Chair of the Board of Directors

This past year, I had the opportunity to travel to Cameroon twice, both times with the generous financial assistance of the Obakki Foundation. My first trip (Nov. 28, 2009–Jan. 20, 2010) began with many long-overdue reunions with friends and “family,” who then quickly came to see that my visit was for work, not play: “Elle travaille trop!” they’d say.

In addition to overseeing the quickly advancing school construction in Keuleng and formalizing our new partnership with RIDEV, Paul Zangue and I began to forge the professional relationship that would lead to his hiring as our first fulltime employee in the spring. Alex Moore, who is now serving as Breaking Ground’s Interim Director, joined me for twoweeks to ring in the New Year with friends in Doumbouo and
to travel to Ngaoundéré for visits with our Women’s Entrepreneurial Program grant recipients. During my second trip (April 26–May 16, 2010), I worked with new board member Alden Blair and the WEP staff to establish partnerships with three local micro-finance banks.

The highlight of both trips, however, was my travel to the Southwest Region. Just moving around in the Lower Wabane Valley is work: trekking by foot between villages, in the scorching sun, is often more timely and practical that traveling by truck over the badly eroded road. But the effort was well worth it in the end. In the village of Folepi, I met siblings Mathias and Catherine as I watched traditional palm oil processing for the first time. I met dozens of women in Folepi, including the beautiful and exuberant Febe Mbai, who spoke enthusiastically about the ways in which our new program will help her with her agriculture.

Most satisfying of all was departing Cameroon in May knowing that the management of Breaking Ground’s programs lay in the able hands of Paul Zangue.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Meet Paul François Zangue

 

Breaking Ground is thrilled to welcome the talented and dynamic Paul François Zangue to the team as our full-time, Cameroon-based Program Director. We first met Paul in 2008, when Breaking Ground worked with his native village of Litieu on the Menouet River Bridge Project. Paul’s passion, energy, and skill very quickly became evident as he emerged as the project’s leader and successfully stepped into the role of Project Manager.

From maintaining relations with high level collaborators like the U.S. Embassy, the British High Commission, and the Peace Corps, to rolling up his sleeves and mixing cement, Paul was (and continues to be) willing and able to make our work a success.

Paul was equally impressed with Breaking Ground’s commitment. “What struck me the most was the approach,” he says. “In addition to sending financing, Breaking Ground encouraged the community members and helped them overcome the obstacles that arise during this type of project. This was all possible due to the engagement and motivation of the staff.”

Paul holds a master’s degree in agribusiness from the University of Dschang and worked for eight years as Branch Manager of the MC2 Microfinance Bank in Dschang. Paul lives in Dschang with his wife and their three children. Paul’s unique combination of integrity, dedication, and expertise make him the perfect ambassador for Breaking Ground’s work in Cameroon. “With Breaking Ground, I have the opportunity to work for grassroots development, allowing communities and individuals to realize their development dreams and improve their quality of life,” Paul says.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Investing in Agriculture Update: December 2010

Pilot program launched in SW Cameroon

After spending many months conducting research, this September, Breaking Ground launched a pilot
agricultural program in the villages of Folepi and Nkeng, in the Wabane-Alou Valley of South West
Cameroon. The pilot, which is transitioning farmers to more productive species of palm and cocoa trees,
is a vital step towards developing a larger program in the valley.

The majority of families who live in the valley, rely on the income from the palm oil and cocoa produced
by their plot of land. While men are responsible for the harvesting of the palm nuts, men and women
work together during the extraction of the red palm oil, and women, helped by adolescent girls, are
exclusively responsible for the cracking of the palm kernels and extraction of the palm kernel oil. Often,
siblings like Mathias and Catherine, work together to collect the palm nuts and cocoa pods from their
land. Each family farms about 2 hectares worth of palm trees and earns on average 325,000fCFA
(approximately $650) a year from the sale of the palm oil. Simply by transitioning to a better quality of
palm tree, we expect to increase the farmers’ income to about 1,100,000f CFA (approximately $2,200).

In October, despite heavy rains, Paul worked with the villagers of Folepi and Nkeng to set up a palm
tree nursery in each village. We are also working with the National Agricultural Research Institute
for Development (IRAD) who has provided the cocoa pods as part of a national program promoting
sustainable agriculture. By the end of the year, both villages will have a nursery of these improved cocoa
pods.

In addition to assisting with the transition of crops, we will be training the farmers in plantation
management, and running a Women’s Entrepreneurial Program adapted to the needs of these
agricultural communities. Starting in January, these classes will cover crop diversification, family
budgeting and cover basic maternal and infant health.

After the completion of this initial pilot, Breaking Ground hopes to expand our work to other villages in
the valley and to be able to provide loans for mechanized presses. These communities are motivated
and excited to learn new methods, increase their income and to be able to invest in their collective
needs: potable water, passable roads and better schools.

Improved Crops: By transitioning to species of palm and cocoa trees that produce a higher quality
product, we will increase the farmer’s revenue and thus allow them to invest in their community.

Diversification: We will be working with the farmers to integrate plantains, pineapples and other
vegetables into their fields as well as providing the start-up funds to raise livestock. This increases
household food security and improves their families’ nutrition. Remove soil part

Mechanized processing: One of the long-term goals of the program is to organize the farmers into
groups that will collectively purchase palm oil presses. Currently this process is done by hand, often by
young girls who would otherwise be in school.

Friday
Jul232010

New program in the works!

Paul François Zangue, our point-person on the ground in Cameroon, just returned from a 10-day research trip in the Southwest Region's Lower Wabane valley. Paul has been hard at work doing research and planning for what will be Breaking Ground's newest Small Enterprise Development program.

8-year-old children carry 20-liter water containers

Following the successes of our Women's Entrepreneurial Program in Ngaoundéré and our West Cameroon Coffee Program in the West Region, our Investing in Agriculture program in the Southwest Region will empower local communities to better invest in their own grassroots development priorities by strengthening their ability to generate income through their primary agricultural activities. We'll be targeting producers of palm oil and cocoa - two of the valley's primary cash crops - and working with women's groups to improve crop diversification and entrepreneurial training.

L1030461
Cocoa Pods

L1030561
Palm nuts being prepared for pressing

There will be more to come on these new programs as our plans develop, but for now, here are a few photos from Paul's most recent trip, during which he directed focus groups to help Breaking Ground better predict the benefits that communities will reap because of our new program.
Members of Breaking Ground's research team traverse a rickety bridge in the valley.

Women's Focus Group

Men's Focus Group

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Tuesday
Jan192010

Fast Food Junkie

Those of you that know me well enough know that I am not one for fast food. The closest I get to eating fast food in the U.S. is the occasional slice of pizza or deli sandwich. I've made a much belated discovery, however, that I am a Cameroonian fast food junkie. It's not that I just discovered liking the foods I prefer here, but rather that I just came upon the realization that they all fit into the category of "fast food" (not necessarily what you'd call it in Cameroon).

So, without further ado, Cameroonian fast food at its best:

Poisson Braissé: Simply put, grilled fish. And though this meal is a simple one, it is, by far, my favorite thing to eat in Cameroon. The system is beautiful. When the craving hits, find a nearby bar. If it's after noon, and you're in a reasonably sized town or city, you're likely to find at least one bar, outside of which will be a woman (or several) preparing fish over a small charcoal grill. You size up the fish. Whole fish, heads of fish, tails of fish. You choose. The fish are basted with a delicious mixture of peanut or vegetable oil and "condiment vert" (basil, parsley, celery, green pepper, garlic - LOTS OF GARLIC) and roasted to a perfect, browned crispiness. Once you've negotiated the price for the piece you want (usually about 250-300 f CFA for a half fish and 400-700 f CFA for a full fish, depending on size - at about 445 f CFA per US$), you indicate how much baton de manioc, and maybe even fried plantains you want with your meal, and then indicate in which bar you intend to sit. Take your seat, order a beer or soda, watch some football/soccer, and before you know it, your platter has arrived, along with a bowl of water for hand washing. Your fish comes with a garnish of red onion slivers - delicious - and two puddles of piment (hot pepper sauce) and condiment vert (the same deliciously garlicy concoction used to baste the fish). Wash your hands, and dig in. No utensils needed. Just pull the delicious meat right off the bones. Yum.





Now, more about the accompaniments:

Baton de Manioc: Literally translated: Cassava Sticks. Cassava, as many of you know, is a tuber eaten all over the world, but particularly in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Alex and I had the pleasure of getting a thorough lesson in the making of baton (it was my second lesson, though I needed a refresher) because we are intent on making it in the U.S. Essentially, baton de manioc consist of casava starch that has been soaked for days to soften the tubers and detoxify the starch. The softened starch is then run through a grinder and then the pulp is laid out and rolled intobanana leaves, which are then tied shut with string. The tied baton are then cooked in boiling water until the soft white pulp has stiffened and turned slightly translucent. Once the baton have cooled, the leaves are simply peeled and discarded, leaving a slightly sticky starch, somewhat the consistency of licorice. Dip in piment and/or condiment vert and enjoy.



Fried Plantains: Not much mystery here. Slice sweet, ripe plantains in long strips or on a diagonal, drop into hot peanut or vegetable oil, fry until browned, and enjoy. I'll admit to having an incredible weakness for fried plantains - and seemingly a second stomach devoted solely to their consumption, which never seems to fill. Ripe plantains can also be grilled, another common form of street food. Both ripe and unripe plantains are boiled, as well, and eaten with sauces, but this type of preparation doesn't fall under the category of "fast food."





Other Cameroonian street food:

Les Prunes: Commonly referred to as prunes, the African Plum or Safou is a unique fruit that, in my mind, fits somewhere between an avocado and an olive. Slightly sour in taste, the fruit has a purplish (edible) skin covering a thin layer of greenish gray flesh, with a large, soft pit in the middle. Prunes are grilled, often alongside plantains and fish.



Soya: In short, meat on a stick. Small pieces of beef, basted in broth, and grilled on street. Served with powdered piment. Typical bar food.