Food cri­sis in Cameroon

Africa Renewal - - Africa Watch - By Pavithra Rao

With ris­ing food prices and so many mouths to feed, Cameroon is grap­pling with a se­ri­ous cri­sis. The In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF) re­ports that prices of main food items have sky­rock­eted this year, some by up to 20% from last year. The price of sorghum, for ex­am­ple, rose by 4%, maize by 5% and rice by a whop­ping 22%, ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

For Cameroo­ni­ans, the re­cent spike has come as a sur­prise be­cause prices were rel­a­tively sta­ble last year. Econ­o­mists blame in­fla­tion­ary trends that be­gan in 2007. Since then, the coun­try’s rate of in­fla­tion has fluc­tu­ated be­tween 1% and 5%. Though not alarm­ing, fluc­tu­a­tions in in­fla­tion over the years ap­pear to be hav­ing a cu­mu­la­tive im­pact on food prices this time.

Out of Cameroon’s 21 mil­lion peo­ple, eight mil­lion live be­low the poverty line, says the World Food Pro­gramme. The coun­try ranks 150 out of 186 coun­tries on the 2013 UNDP Hu­man Devel­op­ment In­dex, which mea­sures coun­tries based on in­come, life ex­pectancy and ed­u­ca­tion. There are fears that the sharp in­crease in food prices will worsen Cameroon’s poverty sit­u­a­tion.

“Soar­ing food prices have neg­a­tive short-run ef­fects on de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that de­pend on im­ports for their food se­cu­rity and where the vast ma­jor­ity of house­holds, in­clud­ing in ru­ral ar­eas, are net food buy­ers,” says the In­ter­na­tional Fund for Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment. Cameroon’s food im­ports, notes the World Bank, com­prise about 25% of to­tal im­ports. In 2008 some Cameroo­ni­ans vented their anger through street ri­ots and there are fears these may hap­pen again.

An in­creas­ing refugee pop­u­la­tion may also be ex­ac­er­bat­ing food prices, many be­lieve. Waves of refugees from the po­lit­i­cally tur­bu­lent coun­tries of Chad, the Cen­tral Africa Repub­lic and Nige­ria are seek­ing asy­lum in the more po­lit­i­cally sta­ble Cameroon. The United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees es­ti­mates that more than 100,000 refugees have crossed over to Cameroon as of 2013.

In ad­di­tion, water short­ages con­tinue to af­fect food pro­duc­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, rain­fall lately has been low and ir­reg­u­lar, af­fect­ing crop yields. In 2012, for ex­am­ple, se­vere drought fol­lowed by flood­ing through­out the Sa­hel re­gion wors­ened Cameroon’s water prob­lem.

The coun­try learned some use­ful lessons from past food crises. In 2008, ris­ing food and fuel prices sparked ri­ots and loot­ing in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s cap­i­tal city and Douala, its ma­jor sea­port. The govern­ment re­sponded by cre­at­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion to reg­u­late ba­sic food sup­plies. The agency has had lim­ited suc­cess as food prices con­tinue to soar. Govern­ment is also pro­vid­ing sub­si­dies for school and work pro­grammes to al­le­vi­ate suf­fer­ing.

Cameroon’s Con­sumer As­so­ci­a­tion be­lieves that sub­si­dies have been timely. How far these will go to lower food prices and as­suage anger re­mains to be seen.

Arterra Pic­ture Li­brary/Alamy

Basins and bowls with spices and food in­gre­di­ents on dis­play at mar­ket stalls in Foum­ban, Cameroon.

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