News / Africa

Cameroon’s Agriculture at Crossroads

Experts say soaring food prices could spark unrest in Cameroon

Multimedia

Audio

Cameroon’s dependence on food imports has skyrocketed over the last three decades. The Ministry of Finance says last year alone, the country spent about $1.1 million on imports of rice, fish, flour, sugar and other products. That’s about five percent of the national budget.

Agricultural specialists attribute the decline to low levels of investment in agriculture and in rural areas in general. Eighty percent of the population is composed of rural dwellers whose main occupation is farming.

Cameroon's farmers must cope with the rising cost of inputs like seed and fertilzer
Cameroon's farmers must cope with the rising cost of inputs like seed and fertilzer


But the government allocates less than 2.5 percent of the national budget to rural development. As a result of the neglect, roads from farms to markets are crumbling, making the distribution and marketing of food nearly impossible.

High Cost of Inputs

The agricultural sector is also plagued by the high cost of inputs like seeds and fertilizers, a lack of conservation infrastructure, such as warehouses to stock harvests before the market, and outdated farming practices that limit productivity. For urban consumers, it’s cheaper to buy imports than to buy locally grown foods.

Godfred Mututu Awa is the government’s regional delegate for agriculture and rural development in Cameroon’s northwest. Injecting more money into the rural sector will significantly reduce the problem according to Mututu. .

“ If we must survive and not depend on other countries," said Mututu, "we must know that this is a vital sector and it needs a lot of financing. This is the only sector that can create job opportunities for children. What share of our national budget goes to agriculture? If we consider it a priority sector, it means other sectors must find the money to pump into agriculture and guarantee food for the rapidly growing population of this country.".

It has not always been this way

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Cameroon produced enough food to feed itself and to export. That changed when an economic crisis began in 1986. The emphasis on agriculture dropped as the demand for oil increased.

Prices for exports slumped on the world market. Government subsidies to farmers evaporated and agricultural development programs collapsed. Farmers looked elsewhere for sources of income and poverty increased in the rural areas, with large numbers of people relying on foreign food aid.

Cameroonian farmers tilling the soil.
Cameroonian farmers tilling the soil.

In February 2008, thousands of hungry Cameroonians poured into the streets in growing unrest. Government statistics reported 40 dead, but civil society activists said some 140 protesters were killed in the riots that swept across the country. The government reacted by announcing a $1 million to improve food production in two years.

But three years later, critics say not much has changed. Food prices remain beyond the reach of average Cameroonians and once again, tension is on the rise.

Experts say the entire agricultural system is in urgent need of an overhaul. Professor Jacob Ngeve Ebua is general manager of the Institute for Agricultural Research and Development, IRAD.  He says Cameroon is utilizing only 12 percent of the arable land for food crop production.

“If we can double the surface area cultivated," explained Eluba, "then we shall have food surpluses. The land tenure systems are so complex. We’re still dealing with smallholder farmers who plant less than one hectare. Mechanization has to be improved so that farmers can organize themselves into cooperatives and hire agricultural machines like tractors to be able to plant large plots of land.".

In January, President Paul Biya announced a new plan boost food production. The president is seeking reelection this year after nearly 30 years in power. Among the measures are the creation of a specialized farmers’ bank to provide cheap loans, an agency to monitor food availability and a tractor assembly plant.

But critics say the measures do not go far enough.  According to  Albert Njonga an agronomist and leader of the 11,000-member Association for the Defense of Collective Interests, (ACDIC),  all logical solutions should center on a 2007 World Bank report.

He says it prescribes agriculture as a launching pad for sustained economic growth through increased direct subsidies to the small farmers in rural communities. The most productive farmers would get the biggest shares.

"The poor farmers do not trust banks," he said, "some of which have recently collapsed on short notice. They also lack the capital to purchase tractors,  subsidies for costly fertilizers and pesticides will significantly encourage production.”

As food prices spike worldwide, experts warn Cameroon’s heavy dependence on imports makes it increasingly vulnerable to external price fluctuations that could trigger another wave of unrest by hungry people.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs