Despite Cameroon having one of the better economies in sub-Saharan Africa, the country faces a relatively flat per capita income of $1,270 dollars annually with a 39 percent national poverty rate. In rural areas, slightly more than half of the population has access to clean water, leaving 48 percent of the rural population without vital resources. Contributing factors to Cameroon’s poverty include corruption, economic disparity and an unstable business climate.
Omer Maledy Gaetan, executive secretary of the Council for the Cocoa and Coffee in Cameroon explains, “Cameroon used to be one of the biggest coffee producers in the world.” Coffee is important to Cameroon’s economic success as it comprises six percent of the country’s gross national product and provides a living for approximately 400,000 farmers. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Essimi Menye notes that “coffee remains a key crop that could contribute to Cameroon’s planned development by 2035.”
Starting in 1990, Cameroon began working with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in reform efforts, spanning from attracting business investment to increasing the productivity of its agricultural industry. However, these efforts have not stopped the decline of the coffee industry.
In recent years, Cameroon’s coffee production has continuously declined and in 2013 production fell by 56 percent from the previous year. This translates to a decrease of an estimated 21,000 tons of coffee in one year. Furthermore, Cameroon’s harvest in 2012 was one-third of its 140,000 ton harvest in 1986.
Gaetan explains, “Our coffee is currently in very bad shape, [the 2013 yield is] the lowest figure we’ve known since Cameroon started growing coffee in 1957. And yet, we’ve known prosperous years. In 1990, we exported 156,000 tons.” But why is the industry declining at a continuous and recently rapid pace?
Following the Cameroon government’s decision during the 1990s to do away with the agriculture sector’s subsidies and economic protections, the prices of inputs such as fertilizers rose quickly. Coffee Farmer Isaah Mounde Nsangou explained, “Without fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and sprayers, it was hard for many farmers to sustain their farms.” The liberal reforms led to other unpredictable costs for farmers, like costs incurred from lack of infrastructure maintenance.
Gaetan explains, “In 1980, we were ranked the 8th world coffee producer. In 1992, when we liberalized the sector, Cameroon was ranked 12th in the world. Today, we are ranked as 30.” Despite the decline of the industry, Cameroon is looking to boost its productivity in response to increased worldwide demand for coffee, which has risen by three percent every year. The CICC has begun a project called New Generation, which is working to engage the youth in the coffee industry.
The CICC will also be disbursing approximately 1.5 million dollars through assistance programs over the next five years in order to stop plummeting harvests. This past February, the European Union signed a 30 million euro contract, which aims to revitalize the coffee sector during the next six years by offering various forms of support to farmers. Farmers have proposed restarting abandoned farms and improving upon commercial delivery, networking and product quality. Other objectives include the creation of an additional 3,600 hectares of coffee plantations over the upcoming six years.
In a country like Cameroon where rural poverty is still an issue, investment in the agriculture sector will provide opportunities for many farmers to escape poverty. The strategies at play, from getting the youth involved to investing in support programs and new plantations, are promising. The potential for growth is present, and it seems Cameroon’s farmers are more than willing to seize the opportunity.
– Christopher Kolezynski