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The current lean season and COVID-19 are driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the Northwest and Southwest regions

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • April 2021
The current lean season and COVID-19 are driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the Northwest and Southwest regions

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Cameroon is facing a second wave of COVID-19, with a 98 percent increase in new daily cases compared to the same period last year. The slowdown in economic activities is leading to a significant drop in daily income and employment opportunities, particularly for poor urban households. However, unlike the same period last year when prices of basic foodstuffs increased following the new COVID-19 restrictions, current prices have remained generally stable.

    • In the English-speaking regions, the early lean season overlaps with a slight increase in insecurity compared to the same period last year, as well as an economic slowdown due to the second wave of COVID-19, forcing poor households to adopt atypical coping strategies. As the lean season progresses, more and more households are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity as they become increasingly reliant on market purchases amid above-average prices and low purchasing power.

    • Persistent attacks by Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) insurgents continue to disrupt typical livelihood activities in the Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Sava divisions, exposing households to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. With household stocks depleting seasonally, staple food prices are expected to rise. Poor households in Mayo-Tsanaga will worsen to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with the onset of the lean season in June, while the rest of the region will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    • The presence of over 300,000 refugees from the Central African Republic over the past seven years in the Mbéré, Kadey, and Lom and Djerem divisions — alongside a recent influx of approximately 6,600 new refugees — continues to threaten host communities’ food security. Increased demand for staple foods continues to keep prices above average, while increased labor supply is limiting poor households’ income and creating Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity.


    The epidemiological situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon is deteriorating in the current second wave, with recent daily cases four times higher than last year’s peak figures. In March, the government tightened measures to reduce the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, mask-wearing, restriction of gatherings and movements, and mandatory screening at all entry points. Additionally, the government launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign to improve prevention in the country. Disruptions in the global supply chain largely due to restrictions in other countries are slowing down trade flows and increasing transport costs. Government restrictions also have a negative impact on poor urban households relying mainly on income from informal employment and petty trade.

    The main growing season for the southern part of the country is underway with planting operations nearly completed for crops such as maize, beans, potatoes, groundnuts, taro, and cassava, following the onset of rains in mid-March. Poor households’ access to fertilizer during this season remained limited, with prices in less-accessible areas 10 to 15 percent higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, agricultural activities in the conflict-affected English-speaking regions remain below average, mainly due to limited access to fields and agricultural inputs, equipment, and infrastructure. In the north of the country, off-season harvesting operations are complete and land preparation for the main season is underway. Persistent attacks by Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) insurgents continue to disrupt agricultural activities in the main affected areas of the Mayo-Sava, Logone-et-Chari, and Mayo-Tsanaga divisions.

    The ongoing rains in the south are regenerating pasture and replenishing water resources, thereby improving the pastoral situation. On the other hand, pastoral resources in the northern regions are deteriorating seasonally due to the dry season, but more rapidly than usual due to reduced transhumance caused by COVID-19 border closures and insecurity forcing herds to regroup in atypical locations in the center of the country and around the borders. However, seasonal livestock movements to the Yaeré plains continue.

    Staple food prices throughout the country are increasing in line with seasonal trends and are close to average levels, except in urban areas where increased transport costs due to COVID-19 are keeping prices slightly above average. However, prices of imported commodities such as wheat, rice, crude palm oil, and soybean meal remain slightly to moderately above average, mainly due to lower imports caused by COVID-19-related constraints in the global supply chain. Rice imports dropped 70 percent between 2019 and 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, rice imports were 36 percent lower than the same period last year, before COVID-19 preventive measures were imposed. Imported rice prices remain 30 percent above the five-year average.

    In the northern regions, off-season harvests have stabilized sorghum and onion prices, but by the end of March cereal prices had begun to rise in line with seasonal trends and were slightly higher than during the same period in 2018 and 2019, mainly due to increased informal exports to northeast Nigeria and the Central African Republic (CAR). The reopening of the Cameroon-CAR borders is restoring informal and formal cross-border trade, particularly through the Douala-Bangui highway and other informal routes. However, increased demand due to the prolonged presence of Central African refugees continues to keep food prices above average in the Mbéré, Kadey, and Lom-et-Djérem divisions.

    In the English-speaking regions, staple food prices are rising in line with typical seasonal trends but are above average overall, the main factors being low market supply and atypically high household demand due to a significant drop in production over the past season. While current prices for most commodities are slightly higher than last month, maize prices are falling slightly in some rural and urban markets. It is likely that reduced access to rural markets forcing producers to sell locally and additional supply from the West region for urban markets could keep prices low, near average levels. Due to three consecutive years of above-average prices for imported rice, increased household demand for substitutes — mainly cassava, plantain, and maize — is causing above-average prices, especially in urban areas.

    Overall, livestock prices in the main northern markets are average and close to those of previous months, with the exception of bull prices, which are slightly down (8 percent) from last month due to increased sales by farmers as a result of a contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) alert. A vaccination campaign is underway throughout the Far North region to combat this disease. The approximate 30-percent increase in the cost of transporting livestock to the south is increasing livestock prices in these destination markets. Border closures due to insecurity and COVID-19 remain a constraint on agricultural and pastoral trade flows along the main internal trade routes and through trade corridors to neighboring countries such as Nigeria, Chad, CAR, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. Herd arrivals from Chad and Sudan have declined by 70 percent, keeping the flow of livestock to destination markets in Yaoundé, Douala, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and CAR below average.

    Agricultural incomes are improving overall for most poor households in the southern part of the country due to the peak labor demand resulting from ongoing planting and weeding operations, including other maintenance work. In conflict areas, households resort to selling firewood, charcoal, and non-food items as they lack agricultural produce to sell amid below-average supply of agricultural labor and typical casual jobs.

    Insecurity and violence continue to persist in the Northwest and Southwest regions, with a slight increase over 2020 in the number of fatalities and conflict events between military and non-state groups. Humanitarian organizations, civilian leaders, and schools continue to be targets for non-state actors. Compared to the same period in 2020, a 5-percent increase in displacement was recorded in February 2021. The divisions with the highest number of people fleeing violence are Donga-Mantung, Bui, Boyo, and Mezam in the Northwest, and Lebialem and Manyu in the Southwest.

    In the Far North region, attacks by insurgents from Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (JAS) and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) have displaced approximately 2,359 people in the Mayo-Sava and Mayo-Tsanaga divisions, both of which are heavily affected by their activity. The Minawao refugee camp in the Mayo-Tsanaga division recorded a 1.2-percent increase in new refugees in the camp compared to April 2020.

    The relative easing of the crisis situation in CAR enabled the voluntary repatriation operation of Central African refugees to resume in December 2020 after a break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the post-election conflict.


    The assumptions of the most likely FEWS NET scenario for the Cameroon Food Security Outlook for February to September 2021 have not changed, with the exception of the following updated assumptions:

    • While measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing, restriction of gatherings and movements, and mandatory screening at all entry points are expected to remain largely unchanged, the government is likely to further strengthen its COVID-19 prevention strategy through the promotion of vaccination campaigns, which is expected to remain on a voluntary basis.
    • The impact of the pandemic on the global economy, including global supply chains, continues, with a significant negative impact expected on supply and transaction costs, with prices of imported and locally produced commodities expected to remain above average but continue to follow seasonal trends.
    • While the informal sector is expected to continue to operate below average, including the daily incomes of urban households, it is likely that more and more businesses will resume fully or partially in the coming months.
    • In addition to the conflict disrupting livelihoods, a slowdown in the business environment as the pandemic intensifies is likely to limit alternative and atypical income-generating coping strategies used by poor households in conflict regions during the current lean season.
    • Following the official reopening of the Cameroon-CAR border, formal and informal trade flows are expected to resume and improve households’ food supplies and incomes, though at below-average levels due to continued insecurity and threats from rebel groups.
    • While most border closures remain enforced due to the increased spread of COVID-19, and as livestock flows to national and regional markets remain below average, it is likely that Ramadan activities will boost livestock trade and improve pastoral incomes in the coming month.


    The number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food security in the Northwest and Southwest regions will continue to increase as the lean season progresses due to increased market dependency resulting from rapidly depleting food stocks, above-average food prices, and low purchasing power. The current lean season is exacerbating the negative effects of the ongoing conflict and the second wave of COVID-19, further threatening already high levels of acute food insecurity.

    As more and more poor households develop atypical coping strategies such as limiting meal portions, consuming plant-based protein sources to replace preferred meat and milk diets, and skipping meals, some household members have been forced to start selling charcoal and/or firewood, performing casual labor (sand hauling, stone crushing by women), and all the while working longer hours than usual just to earn a daily income. These households will likely continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse food security until June, then improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) after the July harvest.

    In the Far North, increased insurgent attacks continue to expose households in Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Sava divisions to Crisis (IPC Phase 3), food insecurity which is compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and typical stock depletion as well as price increases as the lean season approaches. While households in both of these divisions are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), poor households in the Mayo-Tsanaga division will follow suit with the onset of the lean season in June, while the rest of the region will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    Although the widespread presence of Central African refugees increases business opportunities for residents, host communities’ inability to meet increased demand, particularly for food, keeps prices above average. Additionally, increased competition for employment opportunities and natural resources is reducing poor households’ income, exposing them to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity.

    Events that could change the scenarios

    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most likely scenario.



    Impact on food security conditions

    Far North

    Increased violence and rebel activity in Chad and worsening insecurity

    Likely additional negative impacts on cross-border trade and transhumance between Chad and Cameroon, which are already affected by Boko Haram-related insecurity and COVID-19.

    Likely increase in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon due to the influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Chad.

    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


    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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