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Humanitarian needs likely to remain high in conflict areas during harvests

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • April 2023
Humanitarian needs likely to remain high in conflict areas during harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Key Messages
    • During the first quarter of 2023, the price of imported staples such as rice, wheat flour, and vegetable oil remained stable but moderately to significantly higher than 2022 levels and the five-year average, primarily due to the Ukraine crisis. Prices of locally produced cereals also remained higher than typical seasonal levels. For instance, in most markets in the Far North region, sorghum and maize prices between March and April 2023 reached 35 percent above 2022 levels and more than 50 percent above average, reflecting significantly low supplies amid atypically high demand due to consecutive years of below-average production. The recent increase in fuel and transportation costs also contributes to elevated prices of imported and locally produced food commodities.

    • In the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions, food price increases are eroding purchasing power for market-dependent households already vulnerable to food price shocks due to years of extended conflict. Coupled with below-average incomes, these factors are widening food consumption deficits and forcing households to resort to negative coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • In the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions, emergency food assistance needs are expected to continue increasing throughout the scenario period, especially among displaced households, due to persisting conflict and civil insecurity, exacerbated by seasonal flooding and high commodity prices. Needs are estimated to peak around May/June, coinciding with the peak of the lean season in the country's southern zone.

    • In July or August, outcomes will likely improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for some households in the Northwest and Southwest regions as new harvests boost food availability and income from agricultural labor and crop sales. Nevertheless, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely persist in worst-off areas such as Menchum, Momo, and Lebialem divisions, where significantly low production is expected. In Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, low purchasing power amid faster depleting household stocks will continue driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and negative coping. As harvests begin in September, improved food supplies are expected to help households in this zone recover from the harsh impacts of the lean season.

    Current Situation

    The conflict between government forces and separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions continues to constrain livelihood opportunities and access to income, displaced households, and increase prices of food and essential non-food commodities. The number of security incidents increased during the first quarter of 2023, surpassing 2022 levels. Separatists intensified attacks in February and March to disrupt National Day commemorations and the Senate elections. Separatists continue to impose at least one no-work or “ghost town” day per week, in addition to frequent lockdowns.

    In the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions of the Far North region, where insurgency by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) persists, ongoing violence, incursions, looting, and abductions by Islamic groups continue to displace households, negatively impact livelihood opportunities and access to income, and drive prices up for food and essential non-food commodities. Between February and March 2023, the number of recorded security incidents doubled compared to the period between December 2022 and January 2023, internally displacing an additional 1,652 persons (OCHA). The presence of insurgent groups and government military forces continues to create fear among the local population, triggering preventive displacements in localities such as Kerawa in Mayo-Sava, Darak, Blangoua, and Hilé-Alifa in Logone-et-Chari.

    Prices of imported and processed foods such as rice, wheat flour, frozen fish, and pasta were stable in all FEWS NET–monitored markets between February and April 2023 but remained moderately to significantly higher compared to April 2022 and the five-year average. High price trends for these products stem from supply disruptions and high international prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine Crisis. Prices of locally produced maize, sorghum, and millet also remained above seasonal levels during the same period and have been rising since February in line with typical seasonal trends. Apart from seasonal increases, recent price increases observed in urban markets such as Yaoundé and Douala have also been associated with seasonally reduced supplies from the hinterland following recent transportation and baggage cost increases.

    In the Northwest and Southwest regions, prices of coarse grains and legumes remained significantly higher than the average through mid-April 2023 compared to non-conflict years, driven by consecutive years of below-average production, low seasonal supplies, and high demand. However, FEWS NET food price monitoring data for the past two years shows a gradual and slightly declining trend in average monthly prices across the Northwest and Southwest regions. This is associated with improved market access following reduced conflict levels. Between March and April, staple food prices in Wum and Kumbo remained stable, except for beans and palm oil, which increased by 18 to 20 percent.

    Cereal prices in all markets in the Far North region have continued to increase. Between March and mid-April 2023, sorghum and maize prices were 35 percent higher than in 2022 and 50 percent above the five-year average. During this period, groundnut and cowpea (white) prices increased by an average of 10 percent in the Maroua, Kaele, Mora, and Kousseri markets and by nearly 20 percent in Mokolo and Yagoua. While prices typically decline during the off-season harvest and post-harvest period due to reduced demand as the new harvest becomes available, prices of local parboiled rice, sorghum, and maize remained stable in April, largely driven by atypically strong export demand amid below-average production. Key informants reported a cereal and livestock trade boost with Nigeria and Chad following the official reopening of the Gambarou-Fotokol-Kousseri-N'Djamena corridor in December 2022.

    The export ban on cereal and vegetable oil was implemented in 2021 to respond to domestic food needs and potential shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ukraine Crisis remains active until the end of 2023.

    Following a timely start of the March to May rainfall in unimodal and bimodal southern localities, sowing activities for main season crops such as maize, cowpea, beans, and groundnut crops are complete in most cropping areas. In the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions, planted areas remain lower than average following persistent years of cropland abandonment, declining agricultural workforce, and high fertilizers and improved seeds costs. In February and March, widespread insecurity across these conflict regions, including regular non-work ghost days and random lockdowns, reduced the number of farm days and disrupted tilling and planting activities in most areas. Given Cameroon's reliance on imported fertilizers, global price increases, increased import bills, and supply chain disruptions continue to drive below-average fertilizer supplies and high local prices during the ongoing cropping season. Since the start of the Ukraine Crisis, prices of chemical fertilizers have stayed 30 to 55 percent above average in most cropping zones. In April 2023, a 50-kilogram bag of Urea and NPK 20:10:10 sold between 35,000 FCFA to 45,000 FCFA, compared to 18,000 FCFA to 23,000 FCFA at the same time in previous years. Access to fertilizers remains significantly reduced in localized areas where conflict and insecurity have already limited supplies and eroded household incomes. Many poor households continue reducing dosage or not using fertilizers at all. Increased production costs due to high input prices also force some big farms to limit cultivated areas.

    Households affected by conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions continue to be atypically reliant on market purchases for basic grains, given the early depletion of own-produced stocks due to consecutive years of low harvests. As the lean season progresses and food prices increase, many poor households in these regions can only meet minimum food needs. In Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, low household purchasing power and record-high staple food prices continue to drive declining food security outcomes and negative coping. According to provisional food security data collected between February and March 2023 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (still to be published), a significant share of households across the Northwest region, Southwest region, and in Logone-et-Chari of the Far North region are reporting moderate hunger and use of food-related consumption coping strategies. An average of 24 percent of households from these regions reported borrowing food or relying on help from others. Over 20 percent reported accumulating debts to buy sorghum, maize, and rice staples and prioritizing food purchases instead of paying for school fees and needs or hospital visits. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes have persisted since February across the Northwest and Southwest and in the Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Sava divisions of the Far North region.

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET's most likely scenario for Cameroon Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Levels of conflict between government forces and separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions are likely to subside or plateau during the mid-rainy season (May–August 2023) when the movement of troops becomes increasingly hampered by impassable roadways. However, they should stay close to the levels observed during the same period in 2021 and 2022. It is worth noting that levels of conflict are expected to rise before and after International Labor Day and the National Day celebrations in May, mirroring similar occurrences observed during the same period in previous years.
    • In the divisions of Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari, the number of attacks perpetrated by ISWAP and fatalities will likely remain the same, with a slight decrease in attacks around the start of the rainy season in May/June when poor road access will likely decrease military mobilization until the end of the rainy season in September.
    • The increased intra- and inter-urban transportation costs announced by the government in February 2023 are expected further to reduce supplies of harvested products to urban markets. As a result, staple food prices will likely further increase beyond significantly above-average levels, particularly in areas where conflict and insecurity have already limited seasonal supplies.
    • Given expectations of reduced national import levels following the government's removal of import tax exemptions on some food commodities in line with its import substitution policy, additional disruptions to supplies of imported food commodities are likely during the projected period.
    • Given the ongoing funding shortfall, uncertainty related to funding levels in 2023, and logistical and access challenges, humanitarian food assistance for displaced and affected households in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions is likely to continue at current levels and remain lower than in 2022 during the projected period. Depending on available funding, reductions in distribution frequency and ration sizes are likely.
    • Cereal prices across the Far North region are expected to continue to increase during the projected period and stay significantly above last year's prices and the five-year average. According to FEWS NET's price projections, red sorghum prices in Kousseri and yellow maize prices in Mora (Figure 1 and Figure 2) will increase through September 2023 and are expected to double last year's prices and be more than twice the five-year average.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    Until the October and November harvests, households in Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions of the Far North region and those in the Northwest and Southwest regions are expected to continue relying on market purchases for basic food needs due to atypically low household grain reserves. Given low purchasing power and high staple prices, food consumption gaps will increase for these households, resulting in a larger share of the population experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and engaging in negative coping strategies such as borrowing food and money for food and reducing meal frequencies and portions. Improved household food supplies following the start of harvests in July in the southern zone and September in the northern zone will help households in these zones recover from the harsh impacts of the lean season. An improvement of outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is likely around July or August for most households in the Northwest and Southwest regions. However, in Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through September, exacerbated by the anticipated impact of seasonal floods on livelihoods.

    Humanitarian food assistance needs will likely remain high and peak around May or June. In the upcoming months, WFP and other humanitarian partners plan to reach refugees and displaced and non-displaced persons across the country with monthly in-kind food and cash/voucher distributions designed to cover at least 25 percent of daily kilocalorie needs. However, FEWS NET envisages that high staple food prices will continue diluting the impact of cash transfers on these households' food access and consumption. FEWS NET cannot access information on HFA plans and targets during the projected period and, therefore, cannot determine whether planned food assistance will likely change projected outcomes. Based on historical trends, humanitarian access, and logistical and funding constraints, planned HFA will likely cover only 25 percent of the total populations in the Northwest and Southwest regions and the insurgent-hit divisions in the Far North region.

    FEWS NET: Cameroon Food Security Outlook Update, April to September 2023: Humanitarian needs likely to remain high in conflict areas during harvests, April 2023

    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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