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High food prices, insurgent attacks, and intercommunal clashes drive high needs in the Far North

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • April 2022
High food prices, insurgent attacks, and intercommunal clashes drive high needs in the Far North

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  • Key Messages
  • CURRENT SITUATION
  • UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2022
  • Key Messages
    • High staple food prices, early depletion of household food stocks, and declining incomes from reduced crop sales will limit food access for poor households amid low levels of humanitarian food assistance. Until staple food supplies increase with new harvests from July, the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is expected to remain high amongst poor rural and urban households and the internally displaced populations, who are currently mostly market dependent for food.

    • In the Far North Region, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through September amongst displaced and refugee households, including over 36,000 persons internally displaced by last year’s intercommunal clashes in Logone et Chari division. Data collected in Logone et Chari division last February for the 2022 Cadre Harmonisé showed many households reporting moderate hunger and negative food-related coping (rCSI ≥ 19) due to early depletion of the previous year’s harvest, looted houses, destroyed fields amid moderately to severely above-average staple food prices, and reduced livestock and crop-related incomes.

    • Staple food prices across the country have continued to rise, witnessing an additional 10 to 15 percent increase between March and April relative to February. According to FEWS NET price data, maize prices in key producing areas of Nkambe, Fundong, and Kumbo rose by 30, 28, and 17 percent, while red sorghum prices in Yagoua, Mokolo, Maroua, and Mora markets rose by 6 to 12 percent. Imported rice prices were stable during the last two months, while that of imported fish went up by 9 to 12 percent across most of the Southwest and Littoral regions. Prices remain significantly high relative to the same period in 2021 and their five-year averages.  They are driven mainly by high shipping costs linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic conflict-related disruptions.

    • Planting of main season crops has resumed in most areas across the country, where limited and sporadic rains delayed planting between March and mid-April. Input access by poor households remains limited, with fertilizer prices at a record high, having doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic in areas where persistent insecurity was already limiting supplies. Concerns are increasing over upcoming crop production due to the anticipated additional impact of the Ukraine crisis on fertilizer supplies and prices, especially after May, when current stocks are expected to run out.


    CURRENT SITUATION

    The ongoing insurgency by Islamic groups in Mayo-Tsava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari departments, and clashes between government forces and separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions, continue to negatively affect the livelihoods of populations and drive high numbers of acutely food insecure persons. In the Far North, violence against civilians by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) remains constant following a drop-off of attacks since late 2021.

    Since January 2022, violent incidents have displaced more than 3,269 people in Manyu and Meme in the Southwest and Donga-Mantung in the Northwest, with recent attacks on teachers, school children, and humanitarian workers. However, based on conflict event data tracked by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the number of attacks in the Northwest and Southwest regions were significantly lower in the first quarter of 2022 than in the same period in the previous years. This drop is due to the concentration of state forces in the urban areas where the Africa Cup of Nations Tournament was held. In February, a majority of the 750 people who fled some localities in the Northwest and Southwest following clashes between government forces and separatist fighters remain displaced to surrounding villages and bushes where access to food and non-food needs remains limited.

    Over the last six weeks, Cameroon has observed a sustained period of decreasing cases of COVID-19, low active cases per capita, and an improved country classification according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As of April 7, daily new cases were 236, 75 percent lower than February 2022 levels and 94 percent lower than the same time in 2021. However, lingering COVID-19 restrictions continue to disrupt global supply chains and maintain high import costs, keeping domestic supply of imported and processed staple foods below average, and prices at record high levels.

    The effects of the COVID-19 on global supply chains are compounded by the ongoing war in Ukraine, with anticipated impacts on domestic supplies and prices, especially for wheat and fertilizers, given Cameroon’s structural reliance on those imports from Russia. According to the National Institute of Statistics, Russia ranked 14th among Cameroon’s trading partners in 2020, and 8th position for imports. The two main goods imported from Russia during the 2018-2020 period were wheat (wheat and meslin) and fertilizers. These two products composed 65 percent and 17 percent of Cameroon's imports from Russia in 2020, thus positioning Russia as a major supplier of mineral fertilizers in Cameroon. During the same period, other suppliers of fertilizers in Cameroon in 2020 were Saint Barthelemy (16%), Finland (11%), China (5%), and Poland (5%). Imports from Ukraine consist mainly of iron, cast iron, and steel products, which accounted for over 95 percent of imports from Ukraine in 2020. On the other hand, current export trade with Russia is low and stands at 0.04 percent and almost zero with Ukraine.

    Cameroon is reinforcing efforts to contain the Cholera outbreak that started in October 2021 in the Southwest Region with vaccination campaigns that kicked off in April.  Reports from the Public Health Ministry indicate that cases have spread to five other regions (South, Centre, Far North, Littoral, North) and reached 1,888 in mid-March. The rainy season that started in March increased transmission paths and triggers new cases. The Southwest is the most affected region with 73 percent of the cases. The ongoing response is constrained by insecurity and poor road infrastructure, increasing the risk of worsening food insecurity amongst households whose food access is already limited by conflict.

    In the unimodal and bimodal zones in the southern part of the country, the planting of main season maize, cowpea, beans, and groundnut crops that started with the onset of March to July rainfall has resumed following delays caused by limited and sporadic rains between late-March and mid-April. Some fields planted earlier in March have been replanted in localized areas in the Center, Northwest, Southwest, and West regions after they failed to germinate. Despite agricultural input support from the government and partners (mostly certified seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and small farm equipment), deliveries remain insufficient to meet seasonal needs, especially in insecure areas where access is restricted. Reductions in area planted have been observed across the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions following cropland abandonment, the decline in the agricultural workforce, and high costs of fertilizers and improved seeds. Regular Monday “ghost” days and random lockdowns in March and April in the Northwest and Southwest regions disrupted planting activities and reduced the number of farm days. Prices of chemical fertilizers (Urea and NPK) are currently 30-55 percent above pre-conflict levels in these regions, following an additional 15-20 percent increase over the last two years caused by pandemic-related supply disruptions. Concerns are increasing about crop conditions due to the anticipated impact of the Ukraine crisis on fertilizer supplies and prices, especially after May, when current stocks gotten prior to the conflict are expected to run out. Speculation by major suppliers in the face of the Ukraine crisis is also pushing up current prices. In addition to insecurity, high fertilizer prices are key drivers behind the reduction in crop production in conflict areas.

    As COVID-19 global supply chain disruptions and higher transportation costs continue to maintain low domestic supply, prices of imported and processed staples remain high. Following a year of continuous price increases, the price of 50 kg of wheat was 26 percent above average in April. Regarding markets in Douala and Yaoundé, retail prices of a kg of wheat flour in April were 16 and 26 percent above February 2022 prices. The price of a loaf of wheat bread in these cities also increased by 20 percent during the last two months. Nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers currently sell 15-20 percent above average in most parts of the country. In some areas in the Northwest and Southwest regions, where persistent insecurity is already limiting supplies, 50 kg of compound fertilizer (NPK 20:20:10) sold at 35,000 XAF in April, up from 25,000 XAF prior COVID-19, corresponding to a 40 percent increase above pre-pandemic levels. Imported rice prices remained 30 percent above pre-pandemic levels and stable during the last two months. Fish prices have gone up by 9 to 12 percent across most of the Southwest and Littoral regions since February 2022. Pump prices of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene, and the cost of domestic gas across the country remain largely the same as the government promises to bear any additional price increases driven by the current upsurge in crude oil in the international market.

    Crop production declines due to conflict are also contributing to relatively lower supplies of most locally produced staple foods and are putting further upward pressure on prices. Since February, maize prices in conflict-affected northwestern production basins in Nkambe, Fundong, and Kumbo increased by 20, 15, and 11 percent, representing an average rise of 30 to 40 percent above pre-conflict (2014/2015) levels. In April, red sorghum prices in Far North markets of Yagoua, Mokolo, Maroua, and Mora went up by 6 to 12 percent, a month after the off-season harvest. On the other hand, palm oil prices in all reference markets dropped 15 to 26 percent below February levels following palm nut harvesting and processing in February. During the same period, onion prices across the Far North dropped by 20-50 percent as a result of increased supply from off-season harvests.

    The number of food-insecure persons across the country has continued to increase through the lean season, driven by reduced household food and incomes from the early depletion of the previous year’s harvest and below-average livestock trade as well as high staple food prices stemming from pandemic and conflict-related supply disruptions. Recent data utilized for the March 2022 Cadre Harmonisé analysis suggests a large share of households across the Northwest Region, Southwest Region, and Logone et Chari of the Far North Region are reporting moderate hunger and negative food-related coping (rCSI ≥ 19). About 40 percent of households reported borrowing food or relying on help from others. More than 30 percent reported accumulating debts to buy sorghum, maize, and rice, prioritizing food purchases over payments for school fees and hospital visits. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes have persisted since February across the Northwest and Southwest regions, and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes additionally emerged in March for Logone et Chari and Mayo Sava divisions of the Far North Region. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are also likely for over 36,000 persons internally displaced by last year’s intercommunal clashes in Logone et Chari division in the Far North Region, where their fields have been destroyed and food reserves looted.


    UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for Cameroon Food Security Outlook for February 2022 to September 2022 remain unchanged except for the following updated assumptions:

    • The Ukraine war is expected to have a moderate to high economic impact on Cameroon. While the impact on export earnings will be minimal due to low export trade with Russia, which stands at 0.04 percent and almost zero with Ukraine, the wheat and fertilizer sectors are expected to be adversely affected by disruptions of supplies from Russia due to Cameroon’s structural reliance on international wheat and fertilizer. Currently, reduced market availability and elevated prices of fertilizer, wheat, and wheat products caused by COVID-19 are expected to persist and limit access for poor households.
    • Market supply of imported staples like rice, wheat, fish, vegetable oils are expected to decline below 2021 levels as the anticipated drop in global exports from Ukraine and Russia increases the risk of tightening global stocks, negatively affecting supply from other source countries like China, Thailand, Canada, France, and the USA to Cameroon.
    • Prices of chemical fertilizers are anticipated to remain high across the country. Any further increase because of supply disruptions from Russia is expected to further limit access by poor households. Poor cropping households will be forced to further reduce the required doses of fertilizers or not fertilize, with additional negative implications on crop yields and production. With soaring fertilizer prices, production costs are likely to increase, the limiting area cultivated and overall production, especially for large farms and agro-industries, reducing agricultural labor availability and incomes for poor households.
    • Fighting between government forces and separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions will likely subside or plateau mid-rainy season (May-June 2022). However, they will likely quickly resume meeting 2021 levels from July to September 2022 as military mobilization becomes increasingly hampered by impassable roadways.
    • The conflict environment in the Central Africa Republic is likely to escalate from current levels, with reported violent incidents in 2022 likely to be at least as frequent as those reported in late 2021. The violence and humanitarian access level is expected to worsen in the north-western and western prefectures (Ouham-Pende and Mambere-Kadei), where groups such as the 3R (Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation) have increasingly resorted to using roadside bombs since April 2021.

    PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2022

    Across the country, poor households will increase their dependence on market purchases during the peak lean months of May and June. With an anticipated rise in already high food prices caused by the Ukraine crisis, poor households’ capacity to purchase essential foods is expected to be lower than in the same period in 2021. During this time, households that are fully reliant on the market for food – which mainly includes urban and conflict-affected households – will be the worst affected by the decline in their purchasing power. In non-conflict-affected areas, persistently high food prices are likely to push poor households to rely on less preferred or less expensive foods until new harvests. Poor households in large cities are likely to buy food on credit and rely on supplies from relatives living in rural areas to close food consumption gaps.

    In conflict-affected Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions, poor households’ already low purchasing power is expected to worsen as staple food prices rise further, driven by anticipated additional global supply disruptions and high prices from the Ukraine war. This will further limit access to food and non-food purchases during the lean season, widen food consumption deficits, and lead to more severe unsustainable coping, like further indebtedness, atypically high livestock sales, and begging for food and money. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist until the harvest in July in the Northwest and Southwest regions, and through September for insurgent-affected divisions in the Far North Region, including Logone et Charis, Mayo Sava, and Mayo Tsanaga . Additionally, the size of the acutely food insecure population is likely to increase further than previously anticipated, driven by price shocks from the Ukraine crisis. Higher food prices will also further constrain food access for poor urban households in large cities like Yaoundé and Douala, who are mostly dependent on market purchases for food. After July, outcomes in the Northwest and Southwest regions are likely to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) following the new harvest. However, significantly low incomes from reduced agricultural sales and labor, long-term indebtedness, and continued high prices – especially for imported staples – will continue to drive high food assistance needs overall.

    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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