Banana plantations, cocoa farms, rubber plantations. You see them everywhere in Cameroon.
Bananas, mangoes, citrus (oranges, grapefruit, pomelo—which, to my surprise, is called “shaddock” in Encarta), avocadoes, pineapples. We eat a plethora of them in season.

All these tropical plants we find so normal; none are native to Africa, much less Cameroon. Banana – South East Asia; mango – India; cocoa – South America; pineapple – mostly tropical America; citrus – South East Asia, rubber – South America.

What did Cameroonians farm before these? What did they eat without these? Oroko doesn’t even have a word for orange, grapefruit, or lime—it calls them all “bangnasari” (itself probably a borrowed word from another language), meaning “citrus”—because the plants aren’t native to the area. Since introduction, however, some of these plants have worked their way to becoming essential to a Cameroonian’s life. Plantain (relative of banana) is a staple food for villagers, villagers whose cash crop is cocoa beans. Even tomatoes—which are not only not native to Cameroon, they can’t even be grown in Oroko areas because it’s too humid—have made their way into country chop by way of small, cheap tins of tomato paste available at any market, cornerstore or roadside kiosk.

I can’t help but wonder what all these introduced plants have done to biodiversity. Not that I don’t enjoy eating bananas, plantains, oranges and pineapples, but I wonder what the rainforest has lost to give way to these new species? What traditions, be they food, farming or festive, have slipped away as the plants which were central to them disappeared?


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