AMCHIDE, CAMEROON - Muslims in Cameroon are observing Ramadan in the face of serious price hikes for food due to border closures meant to protect against incursions from the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. Nigeria supplies up to 80% of food in North Cameroon.
In the border town of Amchide, the normal bustling trade with Nigerian businesses is at a standstill.
Local Imam Ibrahim Ahmadou says Cameroon soldiers closed the border just ahead of Ramadan as a security measure against Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants - who have been plaguing this part of Cameroon in recent months with theft, kidnappings, gun running and attacks. He says the problem for his village is Nigeria is the main source of food and traders are nervous.
"Eighty percent of our rice is imported. It is very risky for a businessman to carry [import] rice knowing that there is going to be a problem. Even maize (corn), we also have oil, we have sugar, in fact all the food that Muslims need during the month of Ramadan there is a problem because of this barbaric act of Boko Haram, most businessmen do not want to come in," said Ahmadou.
Amchide shoe vendor Halirou Kakoy told VOA that some food stuffs are no longer available and others, like sugar, now sell for 50% higher than before.
Nine out of 10 people in Amchide make their money through trade, so the border closure and ensuring inflation has hit household incomes hard. Soumou Bakari said he used to make about $200 a day, but now he barely ekes out $50.
He said he’s had to cut food money during Ramadan from $10 to $2 and his family is struggling.
Villagers here told VOA that the scarcity and price hikes have impacted their holy obligation during Ramadan when Muslims are supposed to share food with the underprivileged.
But Ahmadou said Muslims here can forgo certain obligations during this hardship. And, he said, many may skip the requirement to fast during daylight hours if it is affecting their health.
"According to Islamic law, they can stop fasting if the prices are so high in such a way that they cannot be able to afford those basic needs during the month of the Ramadan. After that, if the price drops, they can now fast," said Ahmadou.
Cameroon's Minister of Trade Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana told VOA the government plans to assist the north during Ramadan. He said the government is concerned about the impact of price increases and is discussing ways to make available basic commodities including corn, rice, fish, palm oil, and flour.
Strict border security measures are expected to impact trade long after Ramadan and hit Nigerian business as well. Nigeria buys large quantities of cotton, sorghum (a grain crop used to make animal feed), corn, rice and onions from north Cameroon, and there are huge piles of stock sitting or rotting.
Both governments are actively fighting Boko Haram, but militants appear to be intensifying their 5-year old insurgency and remain a threat for the foreseeable future.