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Global Warming Causes Plum Scarcity 

By Azore Opio, Francis Tim Mbom & Coretta Penn Achu

This year, plums, the purplish, cylindrical fruits that are a delicacy for Cameroonians during the rainy season are a rare commodity. Eaten grilled on charcoal fire with parched fresh maize, plums have slumped in yields due to irregular rains.

A farmer, Atabu, from Bai Panya in Mbonge Sub-division, Meme Division, said this year, plums did not do well in that area. "Generally, the fruits have not yielded well this year; plums, mangoes, pineapples, oranges and so on," said Atuba. A lecturer at the University of Yaounde I, Mrs. Lucia Nassuna Njikong, who cherishes plums, said this year in Yaounde they are unevenly distributed. "Some areas have plums, while others have little or none," she told The Post.

The Southwest Sub-divisional Delegate of Agriculture and Rural Development, Germain Ngenye Elame, said the rains came at irregular intervals which did not coincide with the flowering period. "Flowering of most fruit trees occur towards the end of the dry season (December through February), so when the rains don’t come at this time, the trees abort, hence no fruits," said the Delegate. This largely explains the exorbitant prices tagged to plums this year; eight plums for FCFA 500 or a single plum for FCFA 50.

Most women who sell plums say the yield this year has been pretty low; reason why they have scaled up the price. In Buea, women who sell plums said it has been a bad year. "You see, I am not selling plums this year," said Emilia Enjema, who sells fruits at Great Soppo Market, "the farmers are telling us the yields are very poor." Patience Bessem in Limbe said a bucket of plums at Bonadikombo (Mile Four) where much of it comes from, sells at FCFA 4,000.

Some people attribute the low yields to the growing effects of global warming which is adversely affecting changes in climate and consequently, negatively, impacting on crop yields.
The Ndian Divisional Delegate for Agriculture, Jean Marie Ngangue, who happened to be in Limbe by the time of filing this report, said in Ndian, "almost all the fruit trees such as plums, mangoes and pear, for this year were empty."

He said though Ndian is not a high plum producing zone, the harvest this year indicates very low yields. Ngangue said he was convinced that the problem is climate change related. He said plums usually flower for pollination, the first step towards production during the dry season. But he said this year the rains came early and caused the plums to flower and stopped suddenly, causing most of the pollinated flowers to wither and fall off.

At the Divisional Delegation of Agriculture for Fako, The Post gathered that there aren’t any concise statistics yet to verify this year’s yields. The Delegate, Charles Monono, said last year, a kilogram of plums for May and June sold at FCFA 300; in July at FCFA 200 and in August the price dropped to FCFA 100 but soared to FCFA 3000 by October that year. For 2007, the price for a kg of plums remained steady at FCFA 250, FCFA 50 less than in 2008. The Fako Agriculture officials, however, say the plum yields as from last year are on a downward trend.

According to Agriculture Engineer, Félix Meutchieye, of the University of Dschang, the question of plum scarcity depends on too many factors. "What is considered as a rarity can be only a natural phenomenon very common in this plant species: there is a cycle (of about 2-3 years) of abundant fruiting and some years without fruits. There are African plums in Buea presently (surely a bit expensive), not like in areas where people adopted it as garden or economic tree," Meutchieye told The Post in an interview.

Scarcity Linked To Global Warming?

As to whether the scarcity of plums this year is linked to global warming and climate change, Meutchieye said fruiting in domesticated plants depends on many factors.

"The trees are male, female, or hermaphroditic. Male trees may produce a limited number of female flowers, and thus some fruit. Bees pollinate the flowers. Flowering time and duration depend on latitude and genotype. In the natural habitat, flowering takes place from January to April, followed by the major fruiting season between May and October," Meutchieye said.
He said there is a need for field observation to ascertain that the problem is due to climate change.

"The global warming probably is not the direct cause. People forget that the misuse of pesticides as now common in many places, killing large amounts of insects, useful or not, particularly bees or relatives which pollinate flowers. In Buea like in other parts of the country beekeepers observed this last two years the diminishing trends of bee population," explained Meutchieye.

According to Dr. Avana Marie Louise Epse Tientcheu, PH.D, researcher in the Department of Forestry, Agroforesrty and Vegetal Biotechnology, University of Dschang, "we are situating the problem in relation to the past, but we should bear in mind that there is no real problem. It is just a question of climate variation, as the fruits may not come at same time like last year."
Meanwhile, Southwest Sub-divisional Delegate of Agriculture, Mr. Elame, said the problem could be solved through irrigation, which they have started with vegetables under the Inland Valley Project for Food and Vegetables.

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