Breaking Ground partners with Cameroonians to achieve lasting solutions to their self-identified needs by investing in local knowledge, empowering women, and promoting economic development.
Breaking Ground’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Program (WEP) builds female leadership, encourages entrepreneurship and creates role models for young girls. Women in these programs are prepared to become community leaders who oversee agricultural projects and loan programs.
Breaking Ground – UN MDGs
Breaking Ground, through the WEP program, provides instruction to women in suitable business and farming techniques to help them go beyond subsistence levels by:
• Cooperatively creating a community garden to provide education in organic farming and seeds for transplant to individual gardens.
• Providing specific training in agricultural vocation opportunities such as soap making, pig farming, palm and coconut production and oil processing.
• Providing microcredit to help women invest in pig farming or cocoa and palm production.
Dining for Women’s $45,848 grant to Breaking Ground will directly support agricultural training programs for 290 women and provide 48 women with microloans to support entrepreneurial businesses.
This grant funds two years of a six-year program that will directly impact 885 women and indirectly impact 4,000 individuals.
Life Challenges of the Women Served
As in much of Cameroon, women are often responsible for financing the food production, education and health of their families. They meet these obligations by engaging in small-scale economic activities such as agriculture, food processing and raising livestock. The women are often uneducated and lack access to financing opportunities so their activities remain at a subsistence level.
Funding for education is scarce and girls are traditionally relied upon for undertaking the painstaking task of processing palm kernel oil by hand, resulting in under-enrollment of girls in school. Current levels of revenue from the main crops of cocoa and palm oil are unlikely to break the cycle of poverty.
Limited dietary options present health issues. Cassava production, one of the staples, may soon be threatened. Scientists say a disease destroying entire crops of cassava has spread out of East Africa into the heart of the continent. According to a May 2013, Associated Press report, the virus is attacking plants as far south as Angola and now threatens to move west.
Breaking Ground’s Women’s Empowerment Program was founded in 2007 in Dschang in response to the expressed needs of community women. The longest running income-generating program, it includes an eight-week business course, business plan coaching, financing for selected projects and follow-up monitoring. The eight-week course incorporates topics such as feasibility studies, marketing, cost analysis and leadership.
In 2010, Breaking Ground conducted research in Lebialem Valley, followed by pilot workshops, to assess the needs and the best strategies for intervention. WEP is a six-year program begun in September 2012 and ending in May 2018. Man & Nature, International Children’s Awareness and the Cameroonian Center provided funding for the first year and are committed to funding the last three years. DFW funding will cover the second and third year of the project.
Program Goals – The goals of WEP are to create income-generating projects by helping women invest in their families and communities over the long run, diversify their produce (and diets) and invest in cash crops. The program will become financially sustainable as women learn and master agricultural and business skills, increase their income, repay their loans and thus contribute to a revolving communal fund. The loans will be used by groups of women to pay for processing machinery such as palm oil presses and cassava grinders. Each group of women will create and submit a maintenance plan as part of their business plan, ensuring the machines will be available for the future.
During the first three years of the program, WEP will instruct 30 women per village per year, and in the last three 20 women per village will be instructed. This pattern allows the Ground Coordinator (GC) to continue to support the women who received loans in earlier years while still providing high quality, individually tailored instruction to the new group.
Community Garden and Instruction – The GC and volunteers will work with the women to build a community garden in each village that includes peppers, cassava, citrus fruits and bananas. The community garden will be used for instruction in organic agricultural techniques and to provide seeds for the women to transplant in their own fields. As part of the business/agricultural training, women will be shown how to integrate the crops into their diets. The land for these gardens will be provided by the community elites and will be held in trust to the project until the end of the program, at which point the land will be returned to its original owner.
Loans and Support – Each year, four women in each village will receive loans and support to invest in cocoa and palm production and pig farming. In the last three years of the project, the purchase of at least one piece of processing machinery will be funded.
Those interested in receiving loans will draw up and submit business plans to a selection committee from Breaking Ground, the microfinance partner and members of the class selected by their peers. Breaking Ground will provide the capital for the loans to selected recipients at an interest rate of 5 percent and will support the women through the repayment process. Loans will be serviced through local microfinance institutions.
Involvement and Follow-up – The women of the Lebialem Valley have been involved in the WEP program through focus groups, pilot workshops and follow-up interviews. The direction and emphasis of the course will be driven by the GC in discussion with the women and based in response to their specific needs and interests. The GC will visit each woman’s field and work with each woman to identify obstacles she faces and design strategies to overcome them.
Female Leadership and Empowerment – By training, encouraging and supporting a group of women to diversify their produce and invest in cash crops, these women will become role models and mentors for other women in the community. Through the training, the women will learn to build a dynamic women’s organization that can mobilize its energies and resources to accomplish other projects in the future.
Female leadership also will be developed as part of the larger agricultural program through village management committees established in each village to oversee the nurseries and manage the communal funds. These 4-5 person committees must include representation from traditionally disenfranchised segments of the community: women and youth. In combination with business training being received by women and the new economic possibilities, these leadership positions give women a stronger voice in their community. Breaking Ground expects to see greater involvement by women in the social and economic life of the community.
Questions for Discussion
1) Have you ever worked on a farm, or been associated with farming? Perhaps you raise a garden. What comes to mind for you regarding the effort it takes to grow food products?
2) What if you had to grow all your own food? What would it take to do that?
3) Do you know anyone who has faced foreclosure? What was it like for them to be forced to move, especially when resources were tight?
The Project Budget and How DFW's Donations will be used
|Breaking Ground (WEP)- DFW Budget||Expense|
|Program staff & consultants – DFW grant will fund a full-time Ground Coordinator and 30 percent of the Program Director’s salary in Cameroon.||$22,788|
|Training expenses – DFW grant will fund community garden materials, fruit trees, livestock, workshops by technical experts and class materials.||$14,290|
|Microcredit expenses – DFW grant will fund microfinance capital investment||$ 1,100|
|Other non-personnel expenses – DFW grant will fund housing and transport for the Ground Coordinator and communication costs.||$ 7,670|
|Program Total over two years||$45,848|
Please note: Net donations over the grant amount will be reserved to ensure we fund in full all future selected program grant requests, provide Sustained Program Funding to former DFW featured programs, and to offer up to $30,000 to an organization selected by member voting through the new Member Choice Program.
Why We Love This Project
We love this program because it offers women education in organic agricultural techniques to help preserve the water and the soil, which in turn helps to feed their families. It also offers leadership opportunities in their communities, and the ability to start their own businesses through vocational training and access to microcredit.
We also love Breaking Ground’s commitment to programs conceived, planned and implemented by the communities they assist.
Evidence of Success
Over 250 women have graduated from Breaking Ground business classes in the last six years and the organization has provided financing to 82 women-run businesses. In the two years of the pilot agricultural program in the villages of Folepi and Nkong in the Lebialem Valley, 220 individuals attended the training and received higher quality varietals of palm and cocoa plants.
After six years, the program will be evaluated based on the following quantitative goals:
• 885 women trained in business and agricultural skills
• 165 loans provided to individual women
• 21 loans provided to women’s groups
• Achieve a loan repayment rate of 90 percent on all loans
Voices of the Women
“The women are very content! The class not only taught us how to earn more money, but also how to speak up during town meetings. Often women are scared to talk, but this class helped us realize that we also have the right to speak up.” – Madeleine Forsung
“What a man can do, a woman can do much better!” – Bienvenue Tchofor (at left, breaking ground)
“I had always wanted to grow cocoa but had hesitated. During the class, I saw that other women in the village want the same thing, and this encouraged me. I hope that the course continues so that other women in the village can benefit from it and that Breaking Ground will continue to provide us with support and guidance.” – Atebeu Thérese
About the Organization
Lindsay Clarke, current board chairman, founded Breaking Ground in 2006. While teaching English at a primary school in a village in the West region of Cameroon, Lindsay saw that the greatest barrier to the success of her students was the state of their classrooms. Upon learning that construction of the school stopped when money raised by parents ran out, Lindsay successfully raised $12,000 in donations from her home community to finish the school and also build a community library.
Based on the success of the school project, Breaking Ground was founded to help similarly motivated and organized communities in Cameroon achieve their goals.
Where They Work
Located in Central Africa, the Republic of Cameroon is often referred to as “Miniature Africa” due to its diversity of environments and ethnic cultures. It is home to hundreds of ethnic groups. Cameroon’s official languages of French and English are spoken in addition to about 250 indigenous languages, and both Christianity and Islam are practiced alongside the many traditional religions. The population is just over 20 million people. The Germans, French and British colonized Cameroon before the country achieved independence in 1972. Each colonial master invested in infrastructure and used forced labor to achieve their goals.
For a quarter-century following independence, Cameroon was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, according to the World Bank. However, in the mid-1980s the drop in commodity prices for its principal exports – petroleum, cocoa, coffee and cotton – combined with an overvalued currency and economic mismanagement, led to a decade-long recession. Real per capita GDP fell by more than 60 percent from 1986 to 1994. Yet because of its oil reserves and favorable agricultural conditions, Cameroon still has one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Lebialem Valley is a lush, densely forested mountain region in the northeastern tip of the Southwest Province. Lebialem lies within two ecosystems – the Bamileke grassland in the east and the rainforest in the west. The 160,000 inhabitants typically reside in modest homes constructed of red clay-bricks and aluminum zinc roofs dispersed amidst the peaks and valleys of this tropical mountain enclave. A majority of residents of Lebialem earn their living as subsistence farmers, growing and selling produce such as cocoyam, corn, legumes, cassava, yams, coffee and cocoa beans.
Breaking Ground Website
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Documentation and images provided by Breaking Ground to Dining for Women
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