1 Sep 2000
THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF BATIBO
Geographically, Batibo sub division is one of the best-located places in Cameroon. Situated at the boundary between the Savannah vegetation of Northwest Province and the equatorial rain forest of the Southwest province, Batibo was once a paradise for countless specie of plants and animals. Almost all the flora and fauna found in both savannah and rain forest could be found in Batibo. The same goes for occupations of both regions that were practiced in Batibo.
Today, however, human activity is taking its toll and this paradise is being irreversibly transformed into an uncertain but surely unpleasant place. The lions, primates and elephants our grand parents and parents lived with are extinct. The thousands of tree species that made the impenetrable forests of yesterday are gone. The fast streams and rivers that scared many children are drying up leaving gutters that serve rainwater during rainy season.
Nowhere has the transformation been more dramatic and far reaching than has been with the destruction of the forest. Armed with a cutlass and fire the Batibo man and woman have inflicted untold damage to the forest around them beyond everyone’s expectation. Even firewood that was taken for granted in this area is becoming scarce. The eradicated trees have meant less animals and birds, more soil erosion and frequent landslides. At the same time the soil is exposed to sunlight that has driven the water table lower hence the disappearing streams. This effect is compounded by the planting of eucalyptus trees in the area, which, we are told deplete soil water more than other species of trees that existed here naturally.
Batibo, once a food basket with unrivaled abundance of foodstuff like cocoyams is today a shadow of its past thanks to the mismanagement of its natural environment. . Notwithstanding the culture of hard work that has been maintained esp. by the women till date, the fruit of their labour in the field constantly diminishes as the years go by. Today, women toil in the field 12 hours a day 6 days a week and get in return a small fraction of their peer’s yield of yesteryears.
The only silver lining in the sky that still gives some hope to the Batibo people is their palm wine or fitchuk. Arguably the best palm wine in Cameroon comes from this area and constitutes a substantial portion of exports from this region to neighbouring divisions/provinces. If concerted effort is not put in place to prevent the demise of this crop, the economic future of Batibo will be compromised.
The ecological transformation that has taken place in this area within the last three decades has been very profound. Batibo is a mirror of what is happening to the Savannah and forest regions of Cameroon. The prognosis is not good.
Copyright ã Sept. 2000 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]