Cameroon: Chicken farmers hit by high food costs (by Lilianne Nyatcha, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Douala, Cameroon)

| November 17, 2008

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Francois Fofack raises 2,000 chickens on his small farm in Douala, Cameroon. Over the past six months, as the price of maize has increased dramatically, the cost of keeping the chickens has risen by 40 per cent. Recouping that cost in the market is all but impossible. Few people are willing to pay extra for chicken. At the end of the day, Mr. Fofack faces a difficult decision – sell the chickens for a reduced price or take them home, where he can barely afford to feed them. Under these conditions, his profits are disappearing.

Mr. Fofack’s experience is part of a major crisis in Cameroon’s poultry sector, driven by the high cost of maize feed, which is in short supply. Farmers are getting discouraged, and their losses have been significant.

This shortage has persisted for several months. As a result, farmers like Mr. Fofack are being forced to sell off chickens prematurely, to avoid further losses. This is because chickens that don’t receive enough feed take longer to mature and can end up costing much more to raise.

François Djonou is a chicken breeder in Douala. He keeps some 32,000 breeding stock. In the coming months, he plans to reduce this number by 20,000 to minimize his losses. Already, Mr. Djonou has had to kill some 54,000 day-old-chicks, because there just weren’t enough buyers. Chicken farmers are afraid to buy day-old chicks. They worry that they won’t be able to feed them.

Mr. Djonou doesn’t see a solution in this growing season. Wheat could substitute for maize as a staple chicken feed, but wheat is imported and costs even more than maize. He has entered into discussions with maize producers. He intends to provide these farmers with pre-payment, which could allow them to expand their plots or combine the ones they already have and provide him with more feed. However, this solution will have to wait until next year.

The impact on the price of feed has been dramatic. In 2006, a kilogram of maize cost 90 FCFA (approximately 20 American cents or 0.14 Euros). The price surpassed 160 FCFA (about 36 American cents or 0.24 Euros) in September 2008. Some speculate that traders who buy and sell maize have increased the uncertainly about maize prices.

But, according to Joseph Takam, a chicken breeder and maize grower in Bafoussam, western Cameroon, a rise in chemical fertilizer prices is the real culprit behind the high cost of feed. The price of a sack of chemical fertilizer has nearly doubled, from 11,000 FCFA (approximately 25 American dollars or 17 Euros) to 20,000 FCFA (about 45 American dollars or 30 Euros).

In 2007, Mr. Takam used 30,000 kilograms of chemical fertilizer on his 100 hectares of land, producing 600 tonnes of maize. This year, with the rise in fertilizer prices, he could only afford 70 per cent of the chemical fertilizer he normally uses. For the first time, part of his field was fertilized with chicken manure. However, since he had not mastered this fertilization technique, his maize production dropped by more than 25 per cent. Mr. Takam says he had no choice but to raise his prices to recover his investment.