Booming Cocoa Crops Create Culture of Education in Cameroonian Village

The people of Matoh Efongo in Cameroon say profits from cocoa farming have enabled them to educate their children.

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Booming Cocoa Crops Create Culture of Education in Cameroonian Village

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MATOH EFONGO, CAMEROON – Matoh Efongo, a village in Cameroon’s Southwest region, is thriving. The population is growing, and more children are receiving education.

John Mbenge Imbia, the traditional ruler of Matoh Efongo, credits his village’s success to cocoa, the primary cash crop here.

Imbia is a second-generation inhabitant of the village, which is less than 100 years old. His parents came to the village with its founder, Joshua Efongo, around 1934.

Imbia’s parents started farming cocoa and used the money they earned to send him to school, he says.

“I am educated today thanks to the late Papa Efongo, the founder of Matoh Efongo,” Imbia says. “He is the one who encouraged my father to come to Matoh. He is the one who gave my father a plot of land to plant cocoa.”

Matoh Efongo has achieved great developmental success, despite being a relatively young village, Imbia says.

“Matoh Efongo has been in existence for less than 100 years, but it has achieved more than some villages that have been existing for hundreds of years,” he says. “The population keeps increasing; cocoa farmlands and produce keeps rising; more and more children are attaining tertiary education; and many more.”

Education is the village’s greatest achievement, Imbia says. He has witnessed a growing number of children, especially girls, in school during the past two decades thanks to parents who dedicate their earnings from cocoa farming to education.

“Matoh has produced educated elites who can be found in all walks of life,” he says. “Parents toil day and night in their farms just to make sure their children go to school.”

Imbia lives in Cameroon’s economic capital, Douala, where he works as a teacher. He comes to Matoh Efongo at least six times per year to attend to his people and to attend important occasions. His duties include settling land disputes, resolving financial problems among villagers and holding meetings to discuss development opportunities, such as road maintenance.

Imbia also owns cocoa farms in Matoh Efongo, which he says dominate his annual income.

“My monthly salary is nothing compared to the money I make from my cocoa farms,” he says.

Just as Imbia’s parents did, he uses the money he makes from his cocoa crops to educate his children.

Fertile lands in Matoh Efongo enable farmers to earn a steady living. Prioritizing education, they are intent on using their earnings to send their children to school.

The number of schools and enrollment rates have been increasing for the past two decades. Government leaders call education the young village’s greatest achievement and a reason it will continue to develop faster than other more-established villages.

Efongo, the village’s founder, was a hunter when he migrated here from Dikome Balue, Imbia says. Dikome Balue is the largest village of the Oroko people, a group comprising several clans across Cameroon’s Southwest region.

But Efongo soon realized that the sticky, muddy volcanic soil was very fertile, so he became a farmer, Imbia says. He started inviting other Oroko people from Dikome Balue to move to his new village to become farmers and distributed plots of land to them when they arrived.

Today, Cameroonian cocoa is a popular local and international commodity. Farmers in Matoh Efongo sell their cocoa to local buyers who serve as agents for wholesale buyers. Wholesalers take the crops to international buyers in Douala, where they export them to other countries for processing from the nation’s largest port.

Efongo also brought the tradition of education to his new village, Imbia says. Dikome Balue was one of the first villages where Germans settled in Cameroon and built schools. Throughout the region, people know Dikome Balue residents as well-educated.

Today, Matoh Efongo’s 12,000 residents hail from all over Cameroon, including Dikome Balue, Imbia says. People from across the country are moving to the small village known for its cocoa bounty and educational prosperity.

The village has never collected statistics on the number of students enrolled in school, but Imbia confirms he has seen a growth in schools and enrollment during the past 20 years. When he was a young boy in Matoh Efongo, there was only one community primary school. Today, there are two primary schools and seven secondary schools.

Daniel Itoe, who is in his late 50s, came to Matoh Efongo from Dikome Balue in 1975 in search of farmland, he says. Like the majority of village residents, he became a cocoa farmer.

“My only source of income is my cocoa farm,” he says. “I raise my family with money I make from my cocoa farm.”

His priority expense is his children’s education, he says. His parents did not have the means to send him to school. Thanks to the income he has earned farming cocoa since moving to Matoh Efongo, he has been able to change that for his children.

“I work hard so that I can send my children to school,” Itoe says. “I think education is very important in today’s world.”

Itoe’s profits fluctuate with each harvest and changes in the price of cocoa, which has ranged between 700 Central African francs ($1.50) and 1,500 Central African francs ($3) during the last five years. On average, he earns about 500,000 francs ($1,050) from his crops before deducting his outlay.

While cocoa farming is more lucrative than other crops, farmers still make below the average national income. Cameroon’s gross national income per capita in 2012 was $1,170, according to the World Bank. In Cameroon, the average daily per capita income for cocoa farmers in 2011 was $1.72, according to the World Cocoa Foundation, which promotes a sustainable cocoa economy through economic and social development.

Still, farmers earn enough to invest in their children’s education. Itoe says he owes a great debt of thanks to Efongo for discovering this fertile land.

Charles Epimba, a teacher who was born in Matoh Efongo, agrees. Thanks to his parents’ cocoa crops, he was able to earn his Advanced Level General Certificate of Education, which qualified him for admission into university, he says.

Epimba is a teacher in Akwaya, a rural community in the Southwest region. Though he no longer lives in Matoh Efongo, he will never forget his home village and its legacy of education, he says.

“The memories of Matoh Efongo live on in my memory,” he says. “I take the pains to come back to Matoh during holidays, at least to pay tribute to the finger that fed me.”

The culture of education that stems from cocoa profits is unique, Epimba says. As a teacher, he calls on all parents to educate their children with income made from cocoa and other agricultural products.

Roland Efonge grew up in Matoh Efongo and lives here today with his wife and children. Efonge’s parents were cocoa farmers, but because of other financial burdens, they were not able to pay for his education.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to get education,” he says. “I dropped out of school because of lack of money.”

Efonge earns a strong income as a cocoa farmer and uses it to give his children the educational opportunities he did not have.

“I will do everything to ensure that my children go to school,” he says.

Like Epimba, he also encourages parents to send their children to school.

“If a hardworking farmer refuses to send his children to school, then he or she is just being wicked,” he says. “It is not going to be easy at all times, but as a father, you can always borrow money and pay back during cocoa season. This way, you can ensure that all your children go to school.”

Benjamin Itoe is the mayor of Dikome Balue subdivision, which comprises a network of villages. More than half the residents in Matoh Efongo are from Dikome Balue, and he also has relatives who live in the young village.

The mayor, who is not related to Daniel Itoe, says the work ethic and commitment to education of the people of Matoh Efongo is commendable.

“The people of Matoh Efongo are very hardworking people,” he says. “They are committed farmers. With such level of commitment, such a people will always do great things, one of which is sending their children to school.”

The village’s commitment to education is also yielding further local development, Benjamin Itoe says. In the near future, he predicts Matoh Efongo will have tarred roads, pipe-borne water, electricity and even a hospital.

“Today we are crying for having bad roads in Matoh,” he says. “Tomorrow, we will obviously have good roads.”