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Cameroon: A bridge between West and Central Africa

13 July 20208 min reading

Agriculture is the main pillar of Cameroon's economy. The sector is employing an estimated 70 per cent of the country's workforce, while providing 42 per cent of its GDP. Food crop production remains one of the principal agricultural activities in Cameroon, with corn being one of the dominantly cultivated grain crop across the national territory. Corn production in the country increased from 263 tons in 1970 to 2,100 tons in 2019, growing at an average annual rate of 5.84%. However, there are concerns over 2020 cropping season in Northwest and Southwest regions due to insecurity.

ameroon is a lower-middle-income country with a population of over 25 million. Located along the Atlantic Ocean, the triangle-shaped country shares its borders with Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria. Two of its border regions with Nigeria are Anglophone, while the rest of the country is Francophone. Measuring about 700 km east to west and 1,200 km from north to south, Cameroon covers an area of 475,442 km². It forms a bridge between West Africa and Central Africa. Having enjoyed several decades of stability, for many years now Cameroon has been grappling with attacks by Boko Haram in the Far North and a secessionist insurgency in the Anglophone regions.

Cameroon is the largest economy in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), a region experiencing an economic crisis triggered by the steep fall in oil prices. With a strategic location that makes the country a natural gateway into the landlocked region of Central Africa (including Chad, Central African Republic and northern Congo), Cameroon is an influential country in the economic and monetary community of Central Africa.

IMMENSE AGRICULTURAL POTENTIAL Despite exogenous shocks and security challenges, Cameroon’s economy grew an estimated 4.1% in 2019 thanks to a dynamic tertiary sector and growth in consumption and investment. Growth is projected to remain around 4% in 2020 before slowing to 3.4% in 2021. The persistence of security problems, specifically Boko Haram, in the far north and sociopolitical tensions in the northwest and southwest are affecting the economy, with transport, hospitality, telecommunications, and commercial agriculture recording significant material and financial losses.

Agriculture is the main pillar of Cameroon's economy. The sector is employing an estimated 70 per cent of the country's workforce, while providing 42 per cent of its GDP and 30 per cent of its export revenue. Agriculture is considered a key tool for ensuring food security. Cameroon is well known for its climatic, geographic and ecological diversity, which enables farmers to grow a wide variety of crops. However, agriculture has so far been unable to fully achieve its objectives. Indeed, Cameroon continues to import agricultural products despite its immense potential. Like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Cameroon is dependent on food imports to feed its population, despite a huge potential to produce its own food. Main agricultural products include plantains, cattle meat, cocoa beans, taro, bananas, corn, fresh vegetables and groundnuts. Its primary export crops are cocoa, cotton, coffee, bananas, rubber and palm oil.

The country's ecologies range from sudano-sahelian in the far north to sub-equatorial rainforest in the far south, via Guinean wooded and grassy savannahs high and low in the center, and mountain, highland and coastal ecologies in the west.

Food crop types change from cereals in the north, mainly sorghum and corn, to yams and cassava in the center, but still with substantial corn, to increasing dependence on cassava as well as plantain towards the south and west, again with the ubiquitous corn. But there are also many niche areas and products, as well as fish from the major rivers, from lakes and barrages, and from the sea.

Food crop production remains one of the principal agricultural activities in Cameroon, with corn being one of the dominantly cultivated grain crop across the national territory. Apart from being a source of staple food for a good number of village communities especially in the Northwest and Western parts of the country, it also provides food for animals and serves as a raw material for a number of industries, especially the brewery industry. Corn production in the country increased from 263 tons in 1970 to 2,100 tons in 2019, growing at an average annual rate of 5.84%.

According to FAO’s last Cameroon report, there are concerns over 2020 cropping season in Northwest and Southwest regions due to insecurity. Seasonal rains started on time at the beginning of March in southern parts of the country, allowing the beginning of planting activities of the 2020 main season corn crop, to be harvested from July. In the uni modal rainfall areas of the North, planting of sorghum and millet is expected to begin in May. Insecurity and displacements in the Northwest and Southwest regions are expected to continue affecting agricultural activities and limit farmers’ access to fields.

In the bimodal Centre and South regions, harvesting of the 2019 secondary season corn crop was completed in January 2020, while the main season corn harvest was concluded in September 2019. In the uni modal North and Far North regions, where sorghum and millet crops are predominantly grown, harvesting of the 2019 crops finalized last November. Adequate and well distributed rains during the season, coupled with a slight increase in plantings, resulted in a near average national cereal output in 2019, estimated at about 3.4 million tonnes.

In Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions, persisting civil unrest disrupted agricultural practices and hampered farmers’ access to land. In these regions, production of crops in 2019 is estimated well below the five year average level.

In the Far North Region, despite the civil unrest that spread from neighbouring Nigeria since late 2014, the 2019 cereal output is estimated at near average levels due to overall favourable weather conditions and a slight increase in planted area. However, below average outputs were obtained in the districts of Zina, Maga, Gobo and Kai Kai, along the Lagone river, where excessive cumulative precipitation amounts in September and October 2019 caused flooding with damage to standing crops and harvested grains.

CORN Cameroon produced 2.3 million tons of corn in 2019/2020 season according to Business in Cameroon magazine. This production was unable to meet national demand, which, stood at a little over 2.8 million tons. This means that during the period under review, the country recorded a deficit of more than 500,000 tons. “This deficit, which has persisted for several years, often forces brewing companies to resort to imports to meet their corn grits needs. The same applies to the poultry industry, for which corn constitutes up to 80% of provender, the main chicken feed.” Due to this discrepancy between national corn production and the needs of industries and the population, the Cameroonian government created the national support programme for the corn sector a few years ago.

RICE Cameroon is also import-dependent country in rice, importing over 80% of its rice consumption. Cameroon imports approximately 650,000 tons rice into the country each year, while only 135,000 tons of rice is locally produced. To make up the deficit, the government offers technical and financial support to cooperatives and agro-industries for the production of quality seeds, the vulgarization of modern rice production technics and the improvement of harvesting and post-harvest techniques through various projects.

FEAR OF WHEAT FLOUR SHORTAGE Cameroon’s demand for wheat flour will be higher than projections this year because of the current health crisis caused by the coronavirus. Business in Cameroon claims that the country could experience a surge in the price of flour or a shortage. These fears are motivated by the decision taken by Russia, world's largest wheat exporter and Cameroon's main supplier, to suspend its exports until July 1, 2020. The Cameroonian government initially planned to import around 900,000 tons of wheat in 2020 against 830,000 tons in 2019. This volume was supposed to enable the production of about 715,000 tons of flour this year, representing an 8.3% year-over-year increase in production.

ABOUT 2.6 MILLION PEOPLE SEVERELY FOOD INSECURE Conflict remains the major driver of food insecurity as it affects households’ livelihoods and access to food, significantly disrupting agricultural activities and triggering the increase in staple food prices. In Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions, fighting between security forces and separatist armed groups persists since its eruption in October 2016.

The security situation remains precarious also in Far North Region, where incursions of Boko Haram increased between November 2019 and January 2020 resulting in new population displacements. As of end January, about 680 000 people were estimated to be internally displaced in Northwest and Southwest regions and 297 000 in Far North Region, about 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, above the number estimated in October 2019. According to the March 2020 “Cadre Harmonisé” analysis , about 2.6 million people (11 percent of the population) were estimated to be severely food insecure.

On 17 March 2020, the government announced the immediate adoption of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of borders, with the exception of cargo ships and flights bringing food and essential items. Although access to food seems not to be affected by these measures, further restrictions on population movements could hamper access to land and negatively impact 2020 agricultural production.

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