Cameroon: Farmers say financial support is needed to boost production (By Lilianne Nyatcha, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Douala, Cameroon)

| May 5, 2008

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Some twenty kilometres outside of Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, lies one of the country’s most important food-producing regions. Parts of the Moungo Region are renowned for their soil fertility. It’s here that Lydie Florence Tohotcheu established her farm 15 years ago.

Ms. Tohotcheu paid dearly to acquire a fraction of an acre where she grows maize, cassava, and macabo. In 2006, she could not afford much fertilizer, and her crops suffered. Last year, she was able to purchase a sack of fertilizer from a farm supply store for 18,000 FCFA (about 42 American dollars or 27 Euros).

Ms. Tohotcheu would like to expand her farm and increase her production, but this requires more labour and more fertilizer. It also requires more money than she has, especially now, when her income is absorbed by high fertilizer costs. She hopes that, one day, there will be government subsidies to support her work and improve her livelihood.

A global rise in oil prices has increased the cost of farm inputs in most parts of the world. The rise in the cost of chemical fertilizer has been especially sharp, due to increased production and transportation costs. While some have called on farmers to increase food production by using more fertilizer, farmers in Moungo Region say that high costs force them to use less.

Marie Gisèle Sintcheu is less concerned than Ms. Tohotcheu about her ability to earn a living. She too cultivates a small parcel of land in the fertile Moungo Region. To boost her maize and cassava yields, last year, she purchased nine kilograms of fertilizer at a cost of 2,500 FCFA (about 6 American dollars or 4 Euros). But unlike most farmers in her area, Ms. Sintcheu does not devote all her energy to crops. The food she grows is strictly for her family’s consumption. She also works as a seamstress. The two jobs allow her to make ends meet.

Ms. Sintcheu believes that larger harvests would be possible if famers had the means to invest in their operations. She says that if fertilizer subsidies or micro-credit funds were available, she would invest in farm labour.

Hilaire Siewe also needs a second income to maintain the 10 hectares of plantains he established in Moungo Region two years ago. To guarantee good production, Mr. Siewe needs to use 100 sacks of fertilizer at 50 kilograms each. This year, he was only able to buy about 25 or 30 sacks. He explains that, in 2006, he purchased good quality fertilizer for 11,000 FCFA (about 26 American dollars or 17 Euros). When he returned to his supplier this year, the same fertilizer was priced at 18,500 FCFA (about 44 American dollars or 28 Euros). This rise in cost forced Mr. Siewe to turn to lower-quality fertilizer. He can’t afford to purchase insecticides and fungicides to prevent and treat plant disease, either. Fewer inputs mean smaller plants, more plant disease, and ultimately a smaller harvest.

Mr. Siewe says he’s often thought about selling his plantation and training for a different career. Production costs continue to climb. And as poverty levels increase, consumers balk at the price of his plantains. As it stands, Mr. Siewe can barely pay the one full-time worker he employs. He uses day labourers to help prepare the land, spread fertilizer, and harvest crops. Transporting plantains from the field to the market is a challenge. He says that subsidies would help him purchase a vehicle adapted to transporting plantains, increase his production, and make his business profitable again.