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Atypically high staple food prices in the Far North are limiting access to food for poor households during the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • August 2020
Atypically high staple food prices in the Far North are limiting access to food for poor households during the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the livelihoods of poor households, further exacerbating their pre-existing vulnerabilities due to economic shocks and higher food prices. Poor households in urban centers remain the most vulnerable to acute food insecurity. The informal sector continues to operate slowly, despite the relaxation of some restrictions on the movement of goods and services and business opening hours, together with Government support measures for businesses that include subsidies and tax exemptions.

    • The atypical rise in staple food prices in the Far North is further limiting access to food for poor households during the lean season, leading to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. The main cereals (maize, sorghum) are selling for about 40 percent higher than the same time last year and more than 20 percent higher than in May 2020. This increase is mainly due to the decline in reserve stocks from 2019 and the disruption of trade flows caused by COVID-19 measures, together with poor road conditions that are increasing transport costs. In order to increase their purchasing power, poor households are selling more livestock than normal.

    • Despite a fourth consecutive year of below-average production in the Northwest and Southwest regions, new harvests are increasing the availability of staple foods, stabilizing prices and improving the food security conditions of poor households to Stressed levels (IPC Phase 2). However, some displaced persons and communities affected by insecurity that have not been able to plant crops in the aftermath of the conflict and that do not have access to humanitarian assistance continue to be exposed to acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3).


    The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and associated deaths in Cameroon continues to increase, with 19,142 confirmed cases and 411 deaths as of August 28, five months after the first case was registered in March 2020. However, the number of new cases has begun to decline on a weekly basis. Although land and sea borders remain officially closed, some restrictions on the movement of goods and services and business opening hours were lifted by the

    Government in May 2020. In addition, measures have been put in place to provide economic support to the transport, catering, hotel and commercial sectors which, in addition to the informal sector, are considered most seriously affected by the pandemic, according to a study carried out in April and May 2020 by the National Institute of Statistics and the United Nations to assess the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 in Cameroon.  However, although some sectors already benefit from a number of tax exemptions and subsidies (cosmetics and oilseeds) as part of the Government's response to COVID-19, the business climate and the economy are far from operating at a normal level. Moreover, the closure of schools continues to have a negative impact on the labor force. Poor households engaged in small-scale trade have seen a slight improvement over the past two or three months, but social distancing and fear of contagion are still limiting flows of goods to below average levels.

    Throughout the country, current harvests are stabilizing the prices of most locally-produced staple foods, which remain normal in most parts of the country. Although the impact of COVID-19 was minimal overall on the main growing season of 2020, input prices increased, particularly in rural areas owing to restrictions on movement. Due to the closure of borders, imports of fertilizer components at the main blending and bagging points were negatively affected, reducing market supply. Despite the harvests, prices for staple foods in urban centers have remained atypically high since April, owing to the decline in market supply caused by the reduction in trade flows from rural to urban areas and the artificial scarcity created by some wholesalers. In addition to the ongoing conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting domestic and international supply chains. The official closure of borders to contain the spread of COVID-19 continues to reduce imports of commodities such as rice and oil, keeping prices above normal levels. Social distancing and crowd reduction in livestock markets and slaughterhouses are having a negative impact on market supplies of animal products. 

    In the Far North, the main growing season is proceeding normally and sowing generally began in June.  However, owing to a slight to moderate rainfall deficit resulting in localized pockets of drought, maize and sorghum sowings were delayed in some parts of the region, although the area under cultivation was not significantly reduced. Most parts of the region experienced moderate to excessive rainfall in July, which helped crop growth but also caused flooding in Mayo-Danay. Overall, agricultural production in the Far North is expected to be average, but frequent attacks by Boko Haram continue to affect access to agricultural land and inputs and are causing the displacement of farming households in the departments of Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga and Logone-et-Chari, resulting in localized lower than average production. According to the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (IOM DTM) report of August 17, 2020, the recent attacks led to the displacement of 225 households to Kolofata, in Mayo-Sava.

    Prices for staple foods in the Far North region have been atypically high since June, mainly as a result of a reduction in carry-out stocks due to the floods and the reduced quality of cereals as a result of excessive rains in the 2019 season. In addition, the disruptions in domestic supply chains caused by heavy rains, and high transport costs associated with COVID-19 are having a negative impact on the supply of maize in the North and parts of Mayo-Tsanaga, as well as on sorghum and rice imports into Cameroon from Chad and Nigeria, which is typical during the lean season. Trade flows have also declined along the Douala-Maroua-Kousseri corridor and the Maiduguri-Maroua and Maiduguri-Kousseri corridors due to border closures linked to COVID-19. Sorghum is currently priced on average 24 percent higher than in May 2020 and 50 percent higher than the same time last year. Current maize prices are following the same trend and are on average 20 percent higher than in May 2020 and 35 percent higher than in August 2019. The departments of Mayo-Danay and Logone-et-Chari are currently facing significant shortages, with sorghum and maize selling at 60–67 percent and 20–41 percent higher, respectively, than the same period last year.

    In addition to the typical food shortages associated with the lean period, the current price trend is having a major impact on the current food security of poor households in the Far North, further exposing them to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity, with some households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In order to cope with current price increases and to increase their purchasing power, poor households are selling more livestock and engaging in alternative income-generating activities such as selling charcoal and agricultural labor. World Food Programme food distribution continues for vulnerable host populations, internally displaced persons and refugees with reduced food rations (70 percent of the ration for refugees, 50 percent for internally displaced persons and vulnerable host populations).

    Harvests continue in the Northwest and Southwest regions, but remain below average for the fourth consecutive year owing to the ongoing conflict that has reduced access to arable land and inputs and led to continued displacement. Recent updates by UNHCR (as of July 31, 2020) indicate that there are around 679,393 internally displaced persons from the Northwest and Southwest. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a slight to moderate impact on access to inputs for poor households, especially those in rural areas. However, the increasing availability of food is stabilizing the prices of locally-produced staple foods, while household demand on the market is decreasing. Food security has improved for most poor households, who face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. However, current prices for most staple foods remain higher than in the previous year and higher than before the conflict. Internally displaced persons and those living in affected communities that are inaccessible (some locations in Donga-Mantung, Menchum, Liabelem and Ndian) and who have not planted crops as a result of the conflict continue to face acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3).
    Poor households (including refugees and internally displaced persons) in Yaoundé and Douala that have lost their jobs and daily incomes, and therefore their purchasing power as a result of the pandemic, continue to be exposed to acute Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. According to an evaluation conducted by UNHCR and Plan International in April 2020 on the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of urban refugees and asylum seekers, approximately 93 percent of urban refugees and asylum seekers are unable to meet their daily food needs and 73 percent have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.


     The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the June 2020 to January 2021 Food Security Outlook for Cameroon remain unchanged, except for the following updated assumptions:

    Based on information provided by experts, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue in the short and medium term. It is likely that the Cameroonian Government will continue to ease restrictions, which may include a complete reopening of the country in the coming months.
    Incomes from agriculture are expected to improve as households sell new harvests until December, when stocks begin to deplete. However, for regions in conflict, income from the sale of agricultural products will remain below average and short term, as stocks begin to run out from October owing to below-average harvests from the current season.  The economic slowdown caused by measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 will continue to disrupt business operations, leading to job losses and weaker demand for labor in urban centers.
    The early arrival of floods in the Far North is expected to delay the beginning of the off season. Meanwhile, agricultural production in this region is expected to be average, although irregular rainfall, drought pockets in June and August, as well as the floods and excessive rains expected in October, may affect yields, cause the loss of harvests, and reduce the quality of cereals. As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises, the impact of the pandemic on access to inputs and agricultural activities is expected to become more severe, as social distancing and fear of contagion increase. A normal start to the 2021 agricultural year is anticipated in the southern part of the country from January 2021.
    Over the next few months, staple food prices throughout the country are expected to remain stable and, in line with typical seasonal trends, are likely to begin rising from December onwards due to the normal depletion of stocks and the demand associated with the Christmas and New Year festivities. Local supply chains will remain stretched in the short and medium term due to increased transport costs associated with COVID-19, which will keep prices above average.
    Since the borders remain closed and social distancing and crowd control measures persist in livestock markets and slaughterhouses, it is expected that the peak in livestock sales that generally occurs during the Christmas and New Year period will be below average.
    In the Far North, the early harvests starting in mid-September will increase the supply of staple food to the market, allowing prices to stabilize or fall, but without leading to significant price drops. For Mayo-Sava, Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Tsanaga, prices are likely to remain above average due to localized deficits in agricultural production. In addition to Niger’s current land border closures and the conflict in the Lake Chad basin, restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to have a significant impact on trade flows in cereals (sorghum, millet, maize) and other staple and cash crops (cowpea, sesame, groundnut, onions) to regional markets (Nigeria, Chad) over the upcoming harvests.
    For the Northwest and Southwest, prices will begin their seasonal rise in early October, as stocks are depleted prematurely. The COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the effects of the conflict, which are already felt on trade flows, prices and agricultural incomes. The closure of borders in Ekok and Idenau due to the ongoing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic will keep cross-border trade below average.


    Poor households in the Northwest and Southwest regions will continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food security conditions, while the situation of some households will improve, becoming Minimal (IPC Phase 1). However, the situation will worsen until it reaches Crisis (IPC Phase 3) around October, when stocks begin to fall prematurely, leading to higher prices. The situation will be worse for inaccessible communities that humanitarian food aid is unable to reach.

    Poor households (including refugees and internally displaced persons) in towns in Yaoundé and Douala that have lost their jobs and daily incomes, and therefore their purchasing power as a result of the pandemic, are likely to continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity, since staple food prices have remained atypically high despite the new harvest due to supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    When harvests begin in mid-September in the Far North, households will progressively have better access to food as prices stabilize due to the increase in supply, and most of them will move from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. However, internally displaced persons and affected households in departments where Boko Haram attacks are frequent may still face acute food security situations, rising from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3), especially when food aid is not sufficient to meet basic food needs.

    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


    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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