News / Africa

Cameroon’s Agriculture at Crossroads

Experts say soaring food prices could spark unrest in Cameroon

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

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and fertilizers, a lack of conservation infrastructure, such as warehouses to stock harvests before the market, and outdated farming practices that limit productivity.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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid