Nelly Bassily | April 21, 2008
Seated on a wooden stool in the poultry section of Douala’s central market, Maurice Motsebo is visibly upset. The fifty-year-old converses with his colleagues, nonetheless. He explains that he has been a chicken farmer since 1998. But this February, he saw something that he’d never seen before.At the end of February, violent riots broke out in more than 30 Cameroonian villages, protesting the cost of living. In Douala, the economic capital, many people were killed. Vandalism was rampant. For four days, the transportation system was paralyzed, and few people left their homes.
Mr. Motsebo was trapped in his home, unable to feed his chickens. When the riots subsided, he made a bitter discovery. All 46 of his chickens were dead. He had purchased them on credit just two days before the crisis started. Mr. Motsebo introduces his supplier, Emmanuel Kamgaing, whom he must repay.
One of Mr. Kamgaing’s colleagues helps him unload caged chickens from his truck. In a resigned voice, he speaks about his experience on February 25. He went to the market to pick up the1,000 chickens that he was scheduled to deliver that day. But only 200 were alive, and these were very sick. The market was deserted. He could not find any of his buyers. Mr. Kamgaing feared that if he went home, looters would steal his remaining chickens, so he spent the night at his store. Hungry and thirsty, the remaining chickens died.
Jean Marie Kamdem is the president of the chicken cleaners in Douala’s central market. He explains that one cleaned chicken earns him 100 FCFA (about 25 American cents or 0.15 Euros). At the end of the day, a chicken cleaner has usually earned between 1,000 and 1,500 FCFA (between 2.5 and 3.75 American dollars or between 1.5 and 2.25 Euros) to buy food for his family. But during the riots, there was no work.
François Djonou was also hit hard. He is a chicken producer and the Secretary General of the Interprofession Avicole du Cameroun. He says the poultry industry is still waiting for government assistance promised during the avian flu scare. Mr. Djonou says that avian flu knocked the industry down, and now the riots have almost buried it. Like almost all of his colleagues, he lives far away from his farm and was unable to reach it during the crisis. He lost a week of production – some 46,000 chicks that he could not feed or deliver.
Mr. Djonou says the crisis ruptured the poultry production and distribution chain. The effects are still being felt two months later. In the markets, the price of chickens has almost doubled.
Chicken producers say the scale of the riots took them by surprise. They do not know how to predict such a crisis or how they would protect their animals if it happened again. Some talk about storing more feed. But when the riots occurred, it was blocked roads and not lack of supplies that killed their stock.