There are fears in
Cameroon that a combination of problems may lead to slumps in maize production
that will bring on the sub-region's worst food crisis yet. Experts say maize is the most important cereal
crop in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 25 percent of the world's poorest people. Amid rising food costs, many are turning to maize
because it's considered the most
Cameroonian is familiar with fufu corn, a form of couscous obtained from corn
flour. It's cooked by steaming and served with various types of meat and
The country has an estimated population of 18
million. Experts say over 65 percent of
them rely on maize. And amid
skyrocketing food prices, more and more Cameroonians are consuming maize.
The cereal is also used in the production of animal
feed and to make beer and other fermented drinks. It is the main source of income for more than
three million small-scale farmers.
But there are widespread fears that maize production
this year could plunge to an all-time low. The worries gripping farmers and consumers are based
on findings issued by the NGO the Citizens' Association for the Defense of
Collective Interests, ACDIC.
The report warns that Cameroon will face its worst
food crisis this year unless maize production is stepped up by 120,000 tons. It
says Cameroonians will face a rise in the cost of food and other goods, with a
strong probability of more hunger-related unrest. Over the past year, the price of maize at local
markets has doubled to about half a US dollar per kilogram.
ACDIC president Bernard Njonga says several factors
are to blame for the projected maize production decline and eventual price
hikes. He says farmers can no longer
meet production costs which are extremely high. He says in a year, the cost of
fertilizer has leapfrogged to 25.000 FCFA [about 50 US dollars]; a kilogram of
maize seeds now sells at more than one dollar while pesticides and modern
equipment are simply beyond the reach of farmers. He says the solution is for the
government to urgently provide subsidies to farmers before the planting season
And that's not all. The citizens' association says
corruption has compounded the problem. It has been alleged that officials at
the Ministry of Agriculture diverted more than one-and-a-half million dollars
in subsidies for maize production last year. They allegedly signed the money
over to fictitious farmers' groups. Officials at the ministry have denied the
charge as investigations continue.
Another problem facing farmers is unpredictable
rains. Ngwa Martin is a school teacher
and a farmer. Martin says, "The planting season normally starts in Cameroon
after the first rains, that is, from March 15. But farmers [were] mislead by early
rains [into thinking] it was the start of the planting season. [The seeds that
were planted early decayed]."
In February last year, thousands of hungry
Cameroonians poured out into the streets in protests triggered in part by
rising food prices. The government said 40 people were killed, but human rights
watchdogs put the death toll at more than a hundred.
The government reacted by announcing an emergency
three-year plan to double agricultural production. It included the creation of
farmers' banks to provide loans at cheap rates, subsidies for fertilizer and
modern equipment, free seed banks, training and the allocation of land to the
most competent farmers. It committed 1.7 million dollars to the program.
Now, over a year later, farmers say the pledges have
not been fulfilled. In fact, many say the whole purpose was to calm tempers and
divert attention from a plan by President Paul Biya. The president has been in
power since 1982 and wants to amend the constitution to abolish term limits so
he can hold office for life.
But officials at the Ministry of Agriculture
maintain the plan is being fine-tuned and will be enacted in the months ahead.
In the meantime, maize growers are planning to trim
production. Poultry farms are shutting down because they cannot afford feed,
and the brewers are looking elsewhere for maize supplies.