Monday, July 20, 2015

Waiting on the green revolution in Cameroon

Bananas are the fifth-largest export earner in cameroon, but many of its workers go hungry. Photo©Jean-Pierre Kepseu
In two decades Cameroon has gone from being largely self-sufficient to a large-scale importer of basic foodstuffs. A new initiative aims to change that.

In January, the government launched one of its most ambitious projects to support small-scale farmers.
Getting access to subsidies is not easy
Backed by the World Bank, theProjet d'Investissement et de Développement des Marchés Agricoles (PIDMA) includes 50bn CFA francs ($85.9m) to help cooperatives.
Smallholder farmers, the backbone of the industry, say that other programmes are not reaching their intended targets.
The government considers it essential to produce a farming revolution.
According to estimates by the Association Citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts Collectifs (ACDIC), Cameroon's largest farming organisation, 67% of the population is employed in agriculture and 97% per cent of active farms are 1ha or smaller.

Agriculture accounts for about 35% of gross domestic product, and only one third of arable land is under cultivation.
Progress in boosting output is slow, and the tools that most farmers use – hoes and machetes – are rudimentary.
To kickstart the change, President Paul Biya announced a new drive dubbed "second-generation agriculture" in 2011.
The main tenets of the programme are training farmers, improving seed stocks, increasing mechanisation and strengthening finance and access to markets.

The agriculture ministry has set up equipment clusters – administrative units that manage machines that farmers can hire to improve their performance.
The ministry is working on some 40 other projects.

Farmers' loans
To develop PIDMA, it has signed agreements with agricultural cooperatives, a bank, two brewing companies and a dairy operation.
The ministry is acting as an intermediary, and thanks to these agreements the bank will extend loans to farmers' groups that produce maize, cassava and sorghum.
The producers will then sell their goods to the contracting buyers and part of the proceeds will go to the reimbursement of the loans.

PIDMA also includes plans for the rehabilitation of 125km of rural roads.
The government targets 300 cooperatives and an estimated 120,000 people with the programme.
It is difficult to measure the impact of the government's previous initiatives be- cause it has not undertaken any studies.
However, in Cameroon's 10 regions many farmers express disappointment with the pace of improvements.

Simon Fandio, a farmer and president of the board of a cooperative in the West Region, says: "I do not feel the impact of this so-called second-generation agricultural policy. It exists more in the media than it does on the ground."
He adds: "No smallholders benefit from that project."

Another producer in the West Region, David Kamdjeu, explains: "Getting access to subsidies is not easy. We apply to get finance, but when all is done, the money does not come."
He argues that the government needs to refocus its priorities.

"Isn't it more important to review the system of agricultural finance? For me, it is more pertinent than giving seeds."
Former ACDIC president Bernard Njonga argues that "all officials are fighting to manage projects" so that they can make money.

In February, the authorities arrested Paul Sikapin, a former director of a maize subsidy project, and others for fraud.
The ACDIC provoked a major scandal in 2008 when it revealed that officials were stealing money from that subsidy scheme.

"We estimate that the ministry manages an average of 220bn CFA francs for extra-budgetary projects each year. It is a real catastrophe because the impact [of the money] is insignificant," Njonga commented.

Cameroon was once largely self- sufficient in food production but now imports large amounts of basic foodstuffs.
In 2011, President Biya complained: "We spent 500bn CFA francs importing flour, rice and fish in 2009. That is seven times more than in 1994. We must absolutely free ourselves from that dependency."

Little has changed since then, and the country imported 809,000tn of rice in 2013.
Projects like PIDMA could be important steps forward if they improve finance and bring smallholders into the agribusiness chain. ●

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