MEYOMESSALA, Cameroon—An initial group of small rubber farmers in Cameroon are starting to work with Corrie MacColl Ltd. through a program to improve their lives and their agricultural production.
This is a big job that will take years to accomplish.
But the rubber company is pledging millions of dollars to improve the lives of thousands of families who live and work near their two Sudcam and Hevecam plantations in Cameroon.
"There are 500 million smallholders around the world, and 6 million of those produce natural rubber," said Ryan Wiener, global head of sustainable development and strategic marketing with Corrie MacColl. "These smallholders face some of the biggest issues the world has right now, both environmentally and socially."
Corrie MacColl developed the Cameroon Outgrower Programme with the idea of helping small rubber farmers improve their agricultural skills. This will benefit the company through higher rubber yields that farmers sell to the firm. This extra rubber means more money in farmers' pockets and improved standards of living.
Helping these small farmers learn about sustainable agriculture methods also helps protect against deforestation, Wiener said.
"What they do is slash and burn," Wiener said about some small farmers looking to clear their properties to grow crops. "Their farming practices are as bad as they can be. What this does is it creates a negative impact on the world's environment, especially when it comes to climate change."
On the social side, educating farmers on improved farming methods not only increases their yields, but protects their lands.
"We do provide them the education. This is the important part of the program because it's just not about financing the farmers. It's about assisting them," Wiener said.
Corrie MacColl provides financial assistance in the form of plants and supplies to help farmers start growing rubber trees and other complementary crops. Money from these other so-called intercrops, grown on the same land while the rubber trees mature, provide the cash needed to repay the initial loans from Corrie MacColl. The revenue also provides some financial stability in the years leading up to rubber production when the trees are seven years old, Wiener said.
Along with providing agricultural training, Corrie MacColl's program also aims to provide farmers financial knowledge to help them best succeed. The effort also works on the local level, with village chiefs and government officials, to secure deeds to property the farmers have historically inhabited but without the official paperwork.
The multifaceted program also connects the farmers with local cooperatives that help them sell their crops, such as beans, plantains and watermelons, to earn money while the rubber trees grow.
"The intercrops that we're growing will provide very much needed immediate impact in the form of income security," Wiener said.
Those farmers who demonstrate success on the agricultural side also are eligible to eventually add a livestock component to their farms—either pigs or chickens. Raising these animals on the farmland can further supplement the farmers' incomes.
An average investment by Corrie MacColl is about $1,000 per hectare, and farms can be up to two hectares in size to take part in the program, Wiener said. The exact amount a farmer borrows is based on his farm size. One hectare is about 2.5 acres.
About 200 to 250 farmers will be aided this year as Corrie MacColl rolls out the program starting at Sudcam in Meyomessala.
The total investment will run about $28 million and eventually aid 13,000 smallholders near the company's two plantations in Cameroon. A total of 27,000 hectares of what Corrie MacColl calls degraded land are targeted for revitalization.