Local production of basic foods in Cameroon will double in the next two years if an emergency programme announced by the government on 24 April achieves its goals.
“My hope is that the current crisis created by high world food prices would end up having a positive impact for Cameroon by forcing us to become an agriculture-based economy,” said Rabelais Yankam Njomou, an advisor on agriculture to the Cameroon government.
Cameroon, which depends heavily on oil revenues for its national income, uses less than 20 percent of its fertile land and imports many of the foods it has the capacity to produce, he said.
Most local farmers can’t afford modern farming, which is what the programme would address, Njomou said. “Currently farmers can’t afford fertiliser which have almost doubled in price in the last year because it is a petroleum by-product and fuel prices are high,”? he said.
The programme would subsidise fertiliser by between 40 and 50 percent and also create free seed banks, he said. “All the framers will have to do is come and get the seeds.”
Photo: David Hecht/IRIN
|Rabelais Yankam Njomou, an advisor on agriculture to the Cameroon government|
Rabelais Yankam Njomou, an advisor on agriculture to the Cameroon governmentThe cost of tractors would be subsidised by 15 percent and the government would start handing out four to five hectares of fertile land to any farmer who can show that he or she is capable of using the land productively.
The plan has its sceptics. Hozier Nana Chimi, associate secretary general for the Cameroonian agricultural non-governmental organisation (NGO) Service d’Appui aux Initiatives Locales de Development told IRIN: “It looks great on paper but in the past we have seen so many good ideas fail because of bad governance and corruption.”
So far the government has only committed 7 billion CFA francs (US$1.73 million) to the programme. The government’s current total budget for agriculture is around 40 billion CFA francs [US$99.33 million].
“That is hardly enough to pay all the civil servants working in the ministry,” an economist who consults for the World Bank, Georges Tchokokam, told IRIN.
The government would have to more than double that to 81 billion CFA francs (US$201.13 million) for the plan to work, Njomou said.
If the government were to invest more, Cameroon’s agricultural potential could be greater than in any country in Africa, Tchokokam said, noting that Cameroon is one of just a handful of places in sub-Saharan Africa where large amounts of wheat can be grown.
“Cameroon could not only become self-sufficient but a major food exporter,” he said.
Photo: David Hecht/IRIN
|Hozier Nana Chimi, associate secretary general for the Cameroonian agricultural non-governmental organisation (NGO) Service d’Appui aux Initiatives Locales de Development|
Other areas are well suited for rice although Cameroon currently produces only 60 tons a year while importing 400 tonnes. “With skyrocketing rice prices as Asian rice producers cut exports we now have a huge incentive to produce it locally,” Njomou said.
The main obstacle is that farm techniques are inefficient. “Traditional farmers spend all their time farming less than a hectare of land. With modern techniques farmers could increase production on the same amount of land by 70 percent and do it quicker so they could cultivate larger tracts of land.”
For Nana Chimi from the agricultural NGO, farmers in the United States and Europe are subsidised by their government so |why shouldn’t poor farmers in Africa get a helping hand” he asked. “The problem is that the government has traditionally misused such programmes and kept farmers out of the decision making processes,” he said.
Government adviser Njomou refused to characterise the plan as a subsidy. “I wouldn’t say we will be subsidising our farmers because that would sound like we are against free trade so I will call it “price support”, he said, though he admits that it amounts to the same thing.