Transformation of Attitudes Towards Cane in Cameroon
Douala, Cameroon – Nov 2007
Decades ago, articles made out of cane were considered to be the preserve of the poor and less privileged. Over time the attitude of Cameroonians has changed and these days such items have an added value attached to them due to the view that many designs portray or incorporate traditional African heritage.
It is now commonplace to find items made from cane in a wealthy persons home and also in restaurants, hotels and places of attraction.
Cane is derived from a type of palm plant. The stem of the plant is solid, strong and flexible. Tthis makes it ideal for use in the manufacture of furniture, baskets and other woven products. It is easy to work with, requiring only simple tools and low-cost machines. Eighteen species of the plant can be found in Cameroon, however, only three species have the required diameter, fibre wall thickness and density of fibrous tissue that make them most suitable for commercial use.
The increased demand for cane based products is proving to be a boon, and many jobless Cameroonians are turning to the trade as a means of earning a living.
In Douala those who design such products are clustered in different parts of the town, their goods are clearly displayed to attract customers.
24 year old Nwanawasa Paul has been involved in the trade for the past 7 years. He was previously jobless and got involved as a means of trying to earn a living, and soon discovered he had a natural ability with cane. We caught up with him to find out a bit more.
AG: What do you manufacture and what are the materials and processes you use?
NP: I produce chairs (sets), tables, baskets, cupboards and other general items. I use cane/ rattan to construct them. Larger sections of cane are used to create the frame and for strength while smaller pieces are interwoven to provide definition and beauty. I use steam to bend the cane rather than a blowgun as it reduces discoloration and tarnishing through scorch marks.
I then bleach the finished products to obtain uniformity of colour; this is especially important when cane from different species are used to make a product. I sometimes dip the cane in kerosene, as this provides protection against insect attack. When I use varnish I apply it in two coats, and usually sand lightly before adding the second coat; this ensures an even and long-lasting finish.
AG: What is the profile of your customers?
NP: It varies. I have customers from all walks of life, both private and trade e.g. wholesalers and exporters, although exporters are the most difficult to come by.
AG: Why are exporters difficult to reach?
NP: The truth is I am not very well connected so I find it difficult to reach them.
AG: What other difficulties do you face?
NP: Rain, during the rainy season my activities are greatly interrupted. I can come up against materials scarcity due to the fact that suppliers are also hindered by the rains.
AG: Do you work in collaboration with others?
NP: Yes, I need the expertise of a tailor who sews cushions, and I also engage with carpenters who supply me with wooden components that I incorporate into some of my designs.
AG: Is business very good?
NP: The products I produce sell at between 2.5 – 500 pounds. I only know if I have made a profit at the end of the year when I prepare my yearly accounts.
AG: What is your goal?
NP: There are many. I dream of having a big factory that supplies wholesalers and exporters. In order to expand my business I plan to seek the financial assistance of government and other organisations that promote small and medium size enterprises.
AG: Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.
In Cameroon cane is considered an ‘open-access’ resource that can be collected from forests. There are very few laws regulating its harvest and state control often does not adequately monitor its exploitation. Increasing urban growth has led to developments that are encroaching on forests and high demand for cane products has led to the threat of over-harvesting of the resource; this can lead to poor quality cane stems being used and thus inconsistent quality of products.
Cane is important at many levels in local communities. Its exploitation through the cutting and trading of raw cane for transformation into goods can occupy up to about 35 per cent of a households time. As it can be harvested all year round it provides valuable cash income for much needed school fees and medical expenses.
Cane is one of the most important non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in Cameroon. The gathering, selling and processing of it has many advantages and can help forest dependent people lift themselves from the margins of poverty.