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This article argues for a more dynamic use of Cane Rats as alternatives to curb dependence on forest animals, improve access to expensive proteins, fight poverty and increase resilience to diseases and to better wellbeing in Cameroon. It is based on academic research and field work of African Centre for Community and Development ( http://www.africancentreforcommunity.com )
Cane rats are grown in 6-10 regions in Cameroon since 2001. With over harvesting of forest animals for food by many village communities in forested zones, this animal could be a viable option to illegal and unsustainable harvesting of forest animals. This is important due to the following reasons:
Domestication of Cane Rats is not tenuous and farmers have been trained by professional institutions within short periods. These farmers are now engaged in viable businesses on Cane rats ( http://www.4apes.com/videos/cane-rat.php?lang=de ) in 6 of the 10 regions in Cameroon.
More over, the animals are fed with available resources like Elephant Grass, Corn, Sugar Cane (in limited dozes), cassava, sweet potatoes, cabbage and bones that are readily available and accessible even by poor people or communities dependent on forest animals. These food items are also the common staples of many hence local people know where and when to obtain them and market dynamics affecting them.
More so Elephant Grass forage farms needed to feed Cane Rats when established can easily be maintained by farmers as they do not need too much care as with farming vegetables. Many vegetables are easily affected by pests and some times need external inputs that will not be needed in farming Elephant Grass. Elephant Grass is also native species in many Sub-Saharan African countries hence friendly to the climatic and intervention factors for farming Cane Rats.
Also the rate of reproduction of Cane rats is fast hence making it possible for farmers to grow the animals year round or to make income through out the year ( http://www.4apes.com/videos/cane-rat.php?lang=de )
More over, many people need additional incomes to supplement high costs of schooling and medical care for their families and children in particular. Growing Cane rats helps in securing these incomes and also in guaranteeing access to protein as farmers can consume the animals at home while selling as well. It helps to secure food for poor households which are many times affected by diseases like HIH/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria etc. These diseases impact many times on bread winners within these families and incidentally on children’s welfare and education ( http://www.policyproject.com/pubs/SEImpact/southafr.pdf ).
Besides, when domesticated Cane Rats become almost as friendly as rabbits and goats hence increasing their potential for usability and adaptability .
More so, tested Cane Rat projects in Cameroon give possibilities for replicability in forested areas in West and Central Africa or the Gulf of Guinea area where Bush Meat is a highly cherished delicacy.
Besides, Cameroon and Sub-Saharan Africa have high rates of poverty at various levels (Hall and Midgley, 2004) as well as HIV/AIDS hence the need to improve people’s resilience to shocks and stresses imposed by poverty and diseases.
More so, the price of Red Meat is above 2000 Francs CFA per Kilogramme which is too expensive for many poor individuals and households living below the poverty line ( http://www.youtube.com/user/AfricanCentreforCom#p/u/89/-CkTq_7TN1E ).
Fishing livelihoods are also shrinking in Cameroon. Reasons given include the fishing of juveniles, the fishing in nurseries, marine pollution and twin trawling by some licensed harvesters from abroad. ( http://www.youtube.com/user/AfricanCentreforCom#p/u/88/wTJzr8eQ8Uo ) ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXl4lKTncjE ).
It will be better while stepping up the production fish and other related species like oysters and lobsters to invest in alternatives like Cane Rats in order to step up access to proteins, diversify people’s dietary preferences while increasing employment in a region that is in embedded poverty (Bhagavan, 1999).
An effective inventory of forest animals being exploited and over-exploited needs to be made in order to measure the rate of forest depletion or the state of local dependence on forest species. As of now academic findings are sparse and there is a physical limitation in terms of infrastructures like road networks between forest communities and urban centres where Bush Meat is highly consumed. This makes monitoring of Bush Meat Markets difficult. However small scale monitoring of Bush Meat markets has been conducted in smaller areas like Bioko in neighbouring Equatorial Guinea.
More over, policies must be designed to monitor Cane Rat production and marketing in the 6 Southern regions where it is most active in Cameroon. This will help in understanding farmers’ knowledge and difficulties as well as to design replicable interventions in other parts of Cameroon and possibly Sub-Saharan Africa.
Broader working synergies between farmers, local governments, the government and international organizations like the FAO must be established in order to design access to funding the sector and to design holistic micro-projects that empower sub-populations on the benefits of farming Cane Rats, how to farm and market the species . This call for the linking of services of government ministries in relevant sectors like livestock production, animal husbandry, environmental protection, agriculture, fisheries, Employment etc so as to step campaigns, sensitize poor people and better the design and implementation of interventions aiming to embed Cane Rat farming in Cameroon.
Besides the media has to be drawn into the process more vigorously than presently. Community and Private radios should be funded or subsidized to design and broadcast slots on the importance of Cane Rats in effecting better access to proteins, curbing dependence on threatened forest animals including dwarf crocodiles ( http://www.youtube.com/user/AfricanCentreforCom#p/u/3/1qar6ohEW-I ). Subsidizing and funding of private communication stakeholders has to be objective and moderated by an independent administrative unit with diverse stakeholders (possibly specially created QUANGOs) and before parliament in order to avoid the transfer of funds into private coffers or into other sectors as has been the case of SWAPS and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa which is also home to two thirds of HIV/AIDS patients in the world ( http://www.avert.org/aids-impact-africa.htm , http://www.policyproject.com/pubs/SEImpact/southafr.pdf ).
More over, Farmer Field Schools need to be established in various regions in order to include more farmers via participatory processes and better Participatory Rural Appraisals in relevant sectors and document realities, knowledge etc and better agricultural, environmental and social policies in Cameroon ( http://www.africancentreforcommunity.com/Farmer%20Field%20Schools%20an%20unavoidable%20path%20for%20Africa.%20By%20Arrey%20Mbongaya%20Ivo.pdf , http://community.eldis.org/falcazo/Blog/Farmer-Field-Schools--an-unavoidable-path-for-Africa--By-Arrey-Mbongaya-Ivo ).
Also, Conservation institutions worldwide must be more proactive towards empowering individuals, communities and institutions willing to use alternatives to forest animals like snails, moles, frogs, village poultry (Alder et al, 2007) and Cane Rats in designing interventions that seek to curb dependence on unsustainable harvesting of forest animals. They should consider investing in village controlled parks and Game ranches and Eco-tourism via more equitable bottom-top participatory processed that will affect meaningful the financial and social benefits of relevant sub-populations. Many Sub-populations now resist conservation as they consider it less beneficial or a threat to more lucrative options.
People must also go beyond the limitations of taboos that limit their consumption of certain edible species like moles, Cane Rats, frogs etc in order to make access and use of viable protein species more widespread especially among poor and vulnerable poor households. This is most possible if communication tools are put in place to sensitize more people on the relevant subjects ( http://www.youtube.com/user/AfricanCentreforCom#p/u/15/saprCBsX168 ).
This article has demonstrated that Cane Rats have huge potentials. They are fast breeders that can be alternatives to unsustainable harvesting of forest animals, inaccessible red meat and diminishing fisheries in Cameroon. The article proposed the linking of policy sectors, monitoring of Cane Rat markets and establishing an inventory of exploited forest animals as vital for more inclusive and holistic designs. More so communication campaigns are needed as well as donor financial and structural assistance to better the sector and relevant sectors in order to ensure more effective interventions for target groups. This will only work if more Farmer Field Schools (ICRISAT, 2004) are established to popularize sharing of knowledge systems within and outside vulnerable communities. This is however dependent on a more vigorous campaign by government line ministries to work together and not fight over funded resources to ensure sustainability, achieve food security for many people without access to proteins in Cameroon and to avoid wastage of donor money from recently over-burdened tax payers.