How flower growing is transforming Southwest Cameroon
Cameroonian motor mechanic Akah George Kum started growing flowers in the shadow of Mount Cameroon. The venture has bloomed - and the Dibanda region with it.
By Njodzeka Danhatu, bird story agency
On the highway between Dibanda and Douala in southwest Cameroon, a large expanse of colourful flowers stretches along both sides. These flowers are part of George Natural Decor, the business belonging to Akah George Kum.
The flower "garden shop" that Kum has painstakingly built over the past 18 years has helped transform the Dibanda region, the country's horticulture capital, where most residents grow flowers for a living.
"Dibanda is one of the biggest places for horticulture in Cameroon because of our good climate. It does well for the plants-neither too much heat nor too much cold. Our climate is very balanced," said Kum
He added that the region is the country's leading supplier of flowers, which are exported across Africa and outside the continent.
"When you buy a flower from here and compare it with the ones from Douala and Yaounde, you notice a big difference because of the climate. That is why most people take our soil when they come here " said Kum.
Akah George Kum in his garden shop in Buea, Cameroon.Photo : Njodzeka Danhatu
Kum also grows medicinal plants, particularly artemisia, whose extract is commonly used for typhoid and malaria treatment.
"I grow different species of plants, and it is difficult to master their names, but the most popular of the medicinal plants are artemisia," he said.
The 42-year-old trained vehicle mechanic who veered off his career path to grow flowers is also the President of the Dibanda Horticultural Farmers. He says flower growing is well-paying and urges more Cameroonians to take it up, especially with the growing demand for flower plants.
Trees, shrubs and flowering plants in Akah George Kum's garden shop in Buea, Cameroon.Photo : Njodzeka Danhatu
"The income generation of this business is one 100 per cent. If you check your labour and everything, you will know that for any product you are selling out, you have at least 100 per cent profit. I own a house, some few landed properties from the proceeds of horticulture. I do landscaping and designing for nature flowers also," he said.
The domestic Cameroonian market is crucial for the industry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of Cameroonian cut flowers sank dramatically. A simmering civil conflict also negatively impacted exports.
In that environment, domestic sales were a lifeline for farmers like Kum, allowing him to continue to make a living. He encourages major investment into this sector that he believes can still see significant growth - with a knock-on effect for local communities.
Flowering plants in Akah George Kum's garden shop in Buea, Cameroon. Photo : Njodzeka Danhatu
"Despite the conflict, the business is still the residents' lifeline. For instance, I am personally able to save at least FCFA 300,000 (US$465) from the business, monthly," he said.
Kum's plea to the government is for more support because the flower industry can grow the country's economy and act as a buffer against the impact of climate change.
According to Archimede Mbogning, a researcher from the Cameroon University of Dschang, the government needs to invest more in the fledgling horticulture sector because it has a huge economic potential.
"The government should plough more resources into the development of the horticulture sector despite its one per cent contribution to the GDP. It may be low now, but it's growing and promising to be stable as more local people begin to appreciate flowers and the high demand in the international market, especially in Europe," he added.
Trees, shrubs and flowering plants in Akah George Kum's garden shop in Buea, Cameroon. Photo : Njodzeka Danhatu
For Kum, there is no question; the government must support the emerging sector.
"It's the goose that lays golden eggs that has been ignored by Cameroonians," Kum said.
While the government has historically paid more attention to cash crops, including bananas and cocoa, which account for 23 per cent of the country's GDP, the focus is beginning to shift. In 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development initiated a programme to help boost horticulture farming in the country.
For his part, Kum plans to put his money where his mouth is. To expand the business, he plans to buy more land and go into large-scale horticulture.
bird story agency