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Poor urban households are exposed to acute food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • April 2020
Poor urban households are exposed to acute food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic

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  • Key Messages
  • CURRENT SITUATION
  • UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2020
  • Key Messages
    • Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the Government of Cameroon introduced measures to control the spread of the virus, including a curfew and movement restrictions. Poor households, especially those in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé whose main source of daily income is petty trading and other informal jobs, will lose access to these sources of income and will be the most affected.

    • In addition to the typical price increases that accompany the lean season, the disruption of the local supply chain caused by COVID-19 is leading to an additional increase in basic food prices in large cities, limiting access to food for poor households. As a result, poor urban households are exposed to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity.

    • In the Northwest and Southwest regions, which continue to be affected by conflict, poor households have already exhausted their own food stocks and are primarily dependent on food purchases during the lean season. Income from typical sources such as petty trading and agricultural labor does not significantly increase the purchasing power of poor households. They will therefore remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the harvests in July, which are expected to be below average.


    CURRENT SITUATION

    Measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles, borders being closed to individuals, and restrictions on commercial activities, are having a negative impact on poor households, particularly those in urban areas, who primarily depend on income from informal employment and petty trade.

    Border closures and restrictions on the movement of goods and people are also adversely affecting the local supply chain due to increased transport costs. Enhanced vehicle controls are discouraging vendors from driving from the fields to further markets. As a result, supplies of staple foods such as fish, plantains, cocoyam and meat in the main Douala and Yaoundé markets are currently below average.

    The COVID-19 pandemic is also slowing the flow of livestock to Douala, Yaoundé and the regional markets of Gabon, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, as trucks carrying livestock are taking longer than usual to cross borders due to increased customs controls, which in turn increase transport costs.

    However, following the spread of COVID-19 in Cameroon, demand for staple foods has risen sharply due to the start of Ramadan and panic buying by most urban households in anticipation of a period of self-isolation.

    On the other hand, the main growing season in the southern regions of the country is under way, with average to above-average harvests in June, except in the Northwest and Southwest regions, where the conflict continues to negatively impact agricultural production and reduced access to fields and supplies is restricting agricultural activities. In the Far-North, the off-season sorghum harvest was below last year’s levels, as prolonged rains and floods during transplanting reduced the total cultivated area in Bogo, Dargala, Guirvidig (Maga), Kaikai, Maroua, Muturwa, Pété and Waza.

    The beginning of the rainy season in April will improve pasture conditions and water supply, thereby improving the physical condition of livestock compared with previous months. However, livestock farmers in the Northwest, Southwest and Far-North continue to face difficulties moving their livestock due to rampant theft and seizure by separatists and Boko Haram. Most livestock from these areas are, therefore, concentrated in the neighboring regions of Adamawa and Ouest. This could exacerbate livestock farmer conflicts in these host areas due to increased competition over pasture and water resources.

    In the Northwest and Southwest regions, which continue to be affected by conflict, poor households have already exhausted their own food stocks and are primarily dependent on market purchases during the lean season. The increase in demand accompanied by a decline in supply at the market led to a 30 percent price hike. Yellow maize is currently selling in Bamenda, Nkambe and Kumbo for 30, 28 and 16 percent more, respectively, than in the same period before the crisis. A similar trend is observed in rice, beans and potatoes in all regions. However, due to low levels of agricultural activity and the slow trading climate caused by the conflict, income from typical sources such as petty trading and agricultural labor does not significantly increase the purchasing power of poor households. Due to difficulties accessing food, poor households continue to adopt negative stress and crisis coping strategies and will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The flow of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Northwest and Southwest toward the Ouest and Adamawa continues to increase demand and thus prices. Earlier this year, maize prices were 28 percent higher than in the same period of the previous year in the Mayo-Banyo region. In the city of Mbuda in the Ouest region, current prices for off-season beans are 35 percent higher than in April last year.

    In the Northwest and Southwest, 250,000 IDPs were targeted for food and livelihood assistance in March 2020. In the Far-North region, food assistance to Nigerian refugees in Camp Minawao continues at 80 percent of the daily caloric needs. Less than 20 percent of all IDPs in the region receive food assistance on a reduced intake basis.

    In addition to the typical price increases that accompany the lean season, the disruption of trade flows, and price speculation, has further increased the prices of these staple foods, and movement restrictions and curfews in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé are limiting poor households’ access to their sources of income, exposing them to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. As a result of the decline in purchasing power in the Northwest and Southwest regions, as well as disruption to livelihoods caused by the conflict, poor households in these regions are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. Insecurity in the Far-North and declining dry sorghum production are pushing poor households into Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. The areas receiving large numbers of IDPs in the Ouest and Adamawa will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the harvests in June.


    UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the February to September 2020 Food Security Outlook have changed as follows:

    Response to the COVID-19 pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic will continue throughout the outlook period. Restrictions to curb its spread will remain in place until at least June, when easing of the measures will begin.

     Insufficient supply: The restrictions imposed by COVID-19, as well as the fear of contamination, will hinder the supply of some staple foods from source markets and production basins to urban cities. This will reduce the supply of these products until June when most households will start harvesting.

    Higher than normal household demand: Although household demand generally increases during Ramadan in May, demand will be higher than normal due to panic buying and preparations for quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Above-average seasonal price fluctuations: The COVID-19 pandemic will contribute to price increases in conflict areas where prices are already high because of low market stocks and where most poor households are more reliant on market purchases to feed themselves during the lean season. In July, access to new crops will generally alleviate the food hardship of households, except for poor households in the Far-North region, which will still be in the lean season.

    Slowdown in livestock trade in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé and neighboring countries: As a result of the closure of the land borders with Nigeria, most livestock trade is southward to Douala, Yaoundé and neighboring countries such as Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. However, movement restrictions linked to COVID-19 and the slowdown in the transport system will disrupt these trade routes.

    Below-average income for poor households: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most poor households, especially the unemployed, those in informal employment and the self-employed, will lose their main sources of income due to  restrictions on the movement of individuals leading to a slowdown in commercial activities, job losses, a smaller workforce and lower employment. Moreover, as the diaspora is faced with a more severe prevalence of the pandemic, the frequency and amount of remittances they can send may decline.


    PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2020

    For large urban centers such as Douala and Yaoundé, the curfew, the slowdown in the transport sector, and the global economic slowdown expose poor households in the informal employment sector, IDPs and resident host populations to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. In the Northwest and Southwest regions, poor households are experiencing a prolonged lean season caused by the premature depletion of household stocks and falling household purchasing power and their food insecurity remains in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Food security for poor households in Douala and Yaoundé is unlikely to significantly improve with the new harvests starting in July because of transport restrictions that could continue to hinder the supply of freshly harvested food from rural to urban areas, thus maintaining prices above the average. As a result, poor urban households will continue to be exposed to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. However, new harvests starting in the rest of the country should not only improve the food situation of IDPs and poor host households in Ouest and Adamawa. Consequently, their acute food insecurity is likely to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In the Northwest and Southwest, harvests in July will increase food availability and households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) starting in August.

    Figures Récolte principale : mi-août à janvier. Migration du bétail du nord vers le sud : mi-octobre à janvier. Pic de demande de mai

    Figure 1

    Calendrier saisonnier Cameroun

    Source:

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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