The day began with our driver, Jean, being introduced to the application Snapchat. “Look!” I said, perched on
the console between the passenger’s seat and the driver, “You take a picture of yourself, and then you can add a hat, or dog ears, or whatever you want!!” He eagerly took the phone, gave himself a chef’s hat, and burst out laughing. The day was off to a good start.
So we went off into the dust: fourteen Nzong community members (10 women and 4 men), Paul, our executive director, Bart, our agricultural engineer, and me, the Peace Corps volunteer, teaming up with a local agricultural cooperative, BINUM, in the aim of learning about the management of microfinance institutions in the Bafoussam area. The men gallantly took the bush taxi (a rusty green, 1980s Ford sedan that looked like the next bump would sent it flying into metal pieces) while leaving the women, a group dressed in colorful headscarves and pagne, the more luxurious option of the BINUM’s SUV. I, personally, as the tiniest woman in the car, was perched on top of the console between the driver and the passenger’s seat.
Our first stop was the village of Bameka. There, Nzong community members had a question and answer session with the local BINUM cooperative, a local microfinance institution that supports village agricultural initiatives. In addition to the microfinance, in which members can buy a “share” and thus have access to low interest loans, the microfinance runs a store to offer fertilizers and pesticides, as well as a butcher shop and restaurant so members can sell their farm products directly back to the cooperative.
The second day, after a breakfast of coffee and meat sandwiches, we headed out again into the field, this time to the village of Baloumgou. There, the group had an opportunity to see a much smaller, but still very efficient, cooperative, that functions on a local level. We ended the visit with an excursion to see their cooperative’s “piment” crop (a very, very spicy pepper grown in Cameroon), and a traditional meal of rice and tomato sauce.
The Nzong community members were happy to have had the opportunity to see what their organization can become. “From seeing these more developed organizations, I learned that with willpower and perseverance, we can also develop an agricultural cooperative in Nzong,” said Madame Francoise, the president of Nzong’s agricultural cooperative. Breaking Ground hopes that this experience will inspire the members of the Nzong community to develop their own successful agricultural microfinance in their community, contributing to economic development and improved livelihoods in Nzong.