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Cameroon Blames War in Ukraine for Food Price Spikes

FILE - Vendors and shoppers are seen the Mvog Ada market in Yaounde, Cameroon, Jan. 29, 2022.
FILE - Vendors and shoppers are seen the Mvog Ada market in Yaounde, Cameroon, Jan. 29, 2022.

Officials in Cameroon are urging people to eat local foods instead of imports, following protests over shortages and price spikes caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Paul Biya last week ordered ministers to explain to the public that Russia’s Black Sea blockade, not local taxes, has caused a nearly 60% increase in prices for fertilizer and imported foods.

Hundreds of people, a majority of them women, listened to explanations offered by government officials dispatched to the Mfoundi market in the capital Yaounde.

Harouna Nyandji Mgbatou, the top official in Yaounde’s first district, called on the public to consume locally grown food, which he sai was cheaper than imported food.

Asta Koumam, a 30-year old medical laboratory technician, was among those listening. She said that the price of a liter of imported vegetable oil has increased from less than two dollars to about three and a half. She said she and her children have decided to measure vegetable oil in a spoon no matter the quantity of food they are cooking because they cannot cope with food price hikes.

Territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji outlined the scope of the problem.

Nji said a 50-kilogram bag of imported rice that sold at $25 in February now sells at $55. He said the same quantity of rice grown in Cameroon has seen a 5% price increase to $25 because the price of fertilizer imported from Ukraine and Russia has also increased from $30 to more than $70.

Cameroon's trade ministry reports that the central African country imported more than 850,000 tons of cereals from Russia and Ukraine in 2020. In contrast, the Cameroon Importers Union said less than 45,000 tons have been imported since January of this year.

Last week, five government officials, including the ministers of agriculture, trade, finance and mines, held a press conference to explain the consequences of Russia's war in Ukraine.

The press conference, ordered by President Biya, was to help quell protests against price hikes in several towns and villages across Cameroon.

Rene Emmanuel Sadi, spokesperson for Cameroon’s government, said that Yaounde has provisionally suspended the export of cereal crops, palm oil and other staple foods to neighboring countries to make sure that there is enough food for its own population. He said the government has also removed or suspended import duties and taxes on rice, fish, palm oil and building material to protect consumers from skyrocketing prices.

Julienne Gregoire Onguene Ateba, an economist and international transport and logistic specialist at Cameroon’s seaport in Douala, said that the current situation could have been avoided with more foresight.

He said if Cameroon’s government had invested in local production, especially of food as economists suggested to cushion the effects of COVID-19, the population should have been spared the price spikes and food scarcity that has resulted from Russia's war in Ukraine.

In July, Cameroon's government called for emergency food support for more than two million people facing hunger. Authorities said destitute civilians threatened by food insecurity along the northern borders with Chad and Nigeria are finding it especially hard to cope with the rising prices.