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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – As Africa is disproportionately affected by climate change, local Caritas agencies do what they can to implement the plan of action outlined in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical.

The Caritas chapter in the Diocese of Buea, in the South West region of Cameroon, is training farmers on how to make and use organic liquid fertilizers and women on the use of improved firesides, both of which have the potential to protect and preserve the environment, and reduce climate change.

Pierre Ernest Tchinda, the director of Caritas Buea, says little actions can have a big environmental impact.

“We are driving scripture and social teaching of the church. So, protecting the environment is not just a simple slogan. It’s the role, culture and tradition of the Catholic Church as outlined in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’,” he told Crux.

Following are excerpts of that interview…

Crux: You say you are engaged in sustainable development. And one of the things you have done is train 300 farmers on organic fertilizer production. What is wrong with synthetic fertilizers locals have traditionally used?

Tchinda: They cause a lot of harm. That is why we are training our farmers on how to produce natural organic fertilizers and natural organic pesticides. We are a church organization, so we are protecting human life and protecting the environment which is created by God. For us we do not only train farmers to produce fertilizers but also on the need for safe nutrition, because we have noticed that the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are causing a lot of harm.

What harm do they cause? Is it mainly to the people who use them, or to the environment?

Both. To the environment, we have climate change that is worsening because all these chemicals that people are using are causing a lot of problems to the climate and also pollution of water sources, affecting the diversity of crops and animals. To the human being, it causes a lot of harm. You see people complaining of their eyes because of the manipulation of herbicide. It is a poison that if not manipulated very well, it can kill.

And this stems from Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’?

Yes, it is true as you can see; we are the socio-pastoral arm of the church. Normally, Caritas takes its inspiration from the pope’s teachings. So, protecting the environment is not just a simple slogan, it is the  culture and tradition of the Catholic Church.

Closely related to what concerns the environment, you are also implementing what you call the “improved firesides.” What problem do you want to solve there?

You see, we have a lot of deforestation going because people are using firewood as their primary source of energy. And as the forest disappears, the climate is changing. Our target is to reduce deforestation and fight against climate change. We want to reduce the amount of wood people use for their cooking and heating needs without compromising the quality of those functions. For instance, if you used to use two hours to cook beans, the improved firesides could reduce that timeframe to one hour and 30 minutes while using less wood, which produces less smoke. This means you are using less money to purchase wood and causing less damage to the environment and economizing in terms of time as well.

How have beneficiary communities welcomed this innovation?

You know when an innovation comes in and it is solving a lot of problems, it is highly welcomed by the communities. For example, people don’t have to travel rather long distances to look for fuel wood. Additionally, they don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money in buying synthetic fertilizers.

But producing natural, organic fertilizers isn’t so easy?

Yes, it is time consuming to produce natural fertilizers. You need manpower to come up with a natural organic fertilizer. We have come up with a way of applying natural fertilizers in rather small quantities, but the problem is that of manpower. In terms of cost, it costs almost nothing, and is very effective.

Is it possible to briefly explain how to produce organic fertilizers?

Normally what we are using is natural waste. We start by collecting the material – dry or fresh crop waste; we chop the dry waste into small pieces and put it on the first layer. We then take the fresh pieces and chop them too into very small pieces and put it in the second layer. Then if you have some animal manure you put it on the third layer, and the fourth layer you put wood ash in small quantity, and on the last layer, you put soil. After every layer, you water very well before proceeding to the next layer. After all these steps, you cover it and dip a stick inside to monitor the decaying process. So, after three days, you check it (the stick). If it is warm, it means the process is successful, and farmers can apply to their crops.

Who funds your projects?

Our projects are funded by our donors. After identifying needy people, a report is sent to the bishop and the bishop sends a letter to the donors. These donors are the bishops’ conferences of Germany and Italy. So, these are the people who fund our projects. So, it is the Catholic Church that funds our project. Also, we are partners with the Catholic Conference of America. So, these are the main people funding us.