Skip to main content

An early lean season in the Northwest and Southwest regions

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • December 2020
An early lean season in the Northwest and Southwest regions

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Events that could change the scenario
  • Key Messages
    •  In the Northwest and Southwest regions, the lean season that typically extends from March to May will likely begin in February and could last until the harvests in mid-June for most poor households, due to the early depletion of food reserves caused by four consecutive years of below-average production. Below-average farm incomes and staple food prices that remain above the five-year average will expose more poor households to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity.

    • In the Far North region, market prices for staple foods experienced a downward trend after the harvests in October and November, in contrast to July, August, and September when prices increased by up to 60 percent for most cereals. Nevertheless, current cereal prices in Maroua have increased by 25 percent compared to the same period last year due to the non-supply from the North region which has seen a decrease in production because of the early cessation of rains this year and also the flow to other regions, Nigeria, and Chad. Although production is average, the cereal stock is sufficient to meet household demands.

    • Poor households and displaced persons in Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Tsanaga exposed to repeated attacks from Boko Haram continued to face deteriorating livelihoods. These households are exposed to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity due to livelihoods disrupted by below-average production in these departments, kidnappings, and looting, insufficient humanitarian funding, and restricted access due to impassable roads.


    The number of active cases of COVID-19 continues to increase, but at a slower pace than in previous months, with a total of 1,176 active cases as of December 10.

    Restrictions, including social distancing measures and land border closings, remain in place and continue to have a negative impact on the urban informal sector and the economy in general. Imports of basic food products such as vegetable oil and rice, agricultural inputs, and other consumer goods remain limited due to disruptions in the global supply chain. To date, the government has not announced any plans to further ease restrictions or completely reopen the country.

    Poor urban households, including urban refugees, internally displaced persons, and the host population living below the poverty line, remain the most affected by the economic downturn and the loss of income-generating activities. Current food prices in these urban cities are still higher than last year and the five-year average. Imported rice prices remained 40 to 42 percent higher than the same period last year and the five-year average after a sharp increase in May 2020 caused by a decrease in imports due to COVID-19 land border closures. Plantain, taro, and fish prices are 10 to 15 percent higher than their seasonal levels, due to below-average market supply and also due to speculation and artificial shortages created by some wholesalers.

    In the Northwest and Southwest regions, where the 2019 to 2020 agricultural production is 40 percent below average, the food reserves of most poor households began to be depleted in November, 3 to 5 months earlier than a normal year, and are expected to be exhausted by May and June in the hard-hit areas. Staple food prices, which were stable and declining between September and November, are currently increasing due to increased household dependence on markets. While the price of imported rice remained stable in the Northwest and Southwest regions compared to March to June when prices increased, the price of other cereals (maize), and beans and potatoes increased slightly by 10 to 15 percent between November and December, particularly in the region’s urban centers. Despite the current below-average off-season crops of maize, potatoes, beans, plantain, and taro, prices for these commodities remain higher than in a normal year.

    With below-average agricultural incomes and insufficient alternative sources (petty trade, market gardening) to increase their purchasing power, increasing numbers of poor households in the Northwest and Southwest regions will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity as the early lean season approaches in February 2021.

    In the Far North region, current staple food prices in major markets are slowly increasing for most cereals and legumes compared to the five-year average. For example, current grain prices in Maroua have increased by 25 percent compared to the same period last year due to non-replenishment of the northern production basins as a result of this year’s low harvest linked to the early cessation of rains and also illegal cross-border flows to Nigeria. These prices decreased after the October to November harvests, in contrast to July, August, and September when prices, compared to the same period last year and the last five years, were 46 to 60 percent higher for sorghum and 18 to 47 percent higher for maize, caused by increased smuggling to Nigeria and the Central African Republic, and lower production in the 2019 season compared to 2018. Current cereal stocks remain generally sufficient to meet household and institutional needs.

    The largest increase in Boko Haram attacks of the year, with more than 400 security incidents recorded by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), continues to disrupt livelihoods and expose poor households in Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Tsanaga to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity despite average harvests just completed in this part of the country. While production was below average in these departments compared to average production in other parts of the region, the household food security situation is exacerbated by continued kidnappings and looting, causing further population displacements and disrupting usual livelihood activities. Humanitarian aid remains limited due to insufficient funding, but also due to access constraints related to the heavy rains of the previous months that damaged roads, preventing access to about 16,500 internally displaced persons in Fotokol (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA], December 2020).


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for Cameroon’s food security outlook from October 2020 to May 2020 changed as follows:


    • Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: Active cases of COVID-19 will continue to increase. Current restrictions, including social distancing measures and land border closures, are likely to continue throughout the entire projection period, and sporadic and localized lockdowns could be possible in the event of a second wave. It is unlikely that the impact of these restrictions will reach the same magnitude as in April 2020. However, Cameroon’s informal sector and its economy will continue to operate at below-normal levels, with recovery expected to take time despite ongoing and planned government efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
    • Cross-border flows between Nigeria and Cameroon: The Nigerian government announced the gradual reopening of its land borders by December 31, 2020. Given the uncertainty as to whether Cameroon will reciprocate these measures and the levels of ongoing conflict, it is expected that population movements and trade flows across the border with Nigeria will remain similar to currently observed below-average levels.
    • Agricultural production: In addition to ongoing conflicts and insecurity, disruptions in global supply chains and land border closures due to COVID-19 will reduce access to agricultural inputs in the coming growing season. However, predicted favorable weather conditions and an expected increase in input support from the government and partner organizations (to mitigate the impact of COVID-19) will maintain average engagement in agricultural activities, including early season activities in March 2021, except in conflict areas where farming populations remain displaced and access to farms and inputs remains impeded. Conflict will, above all, cause another consecutive year of below-average production in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
    • Pastoral production: Land border closures and migration constraints in the Lake Chad basin, from the Far North and the North to the Adamawa region and the rest of the country in January and vice versa between April and June will further lead to early degradation of pastures during the dry season, mainly between January and March. Potential conflicts may arise over grazing and water resources as herds move and congregate further into the country and south in search of pasture and water.
    • Basic food prices: Basic staple food prices throughout the country should be near average, and should follow typical seasonal patterns, but will likely increase beginning in December due to the Christmas and New Year holidays and stock depletion. Supplies will continue to follow typical seasonal trends, with an expected decrease as the lean season approaches from March onwards. In conflict regions, prices already started to rise in November due to premature stock depletion and fighting that disrupts the supply chain.  Prices could remain above average until new crops are harvested in July.
    • Flows: The flow of locally produced food to urban cities from rural areas of the country will continue to improve and eventually return to normal even if the pandemic persists, given the gradual restoration of the transport system and the reduced fear of contamination by the population. Social distancing measures will continue to slow the resumption of activities. Nevertheless, trade routes in conflict areas will continue to experience frequent closures.
    • Imported rice prices: The high price of rice on the international market, coupled with high transport costs due to COVID-19 restrictions and below-average rice supply in Cameroon will continue to result in above-average prices of imported rice across the country throughout the entire projection period.
    • Conflicts and insecurity: Conflicts in English-speaking regions and insecurity caused by Boko Haram in the Far North region are expected to continue throughout the entire projection period. The Minawao refugee camp, in the Far North, will continue to receive an influx of refugees from northeastern Nigeria while the Boko Haram crisis persists in the Lake Chad Basin. Displaced persons in the Far North, particularly in Fotokol in the Logone-et-Chari department, totaling approximately 16,500 (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA], December 2020), may remain inaccessible in the coming months, as roads remain impassable due to heavy rains and flooding in the previous months. Although fighting in the English-speaking regions did not increase significantly after the regional elections, population displacements will continue and may intensify during the national celebrations in February and May.
    • Increase of voluntary repatriation of Central African Republic refugees: Cameroon launched a new phase of voluntary repatriation of Central African Republic refugees on December 2, during which 200 refugees returned to the Central African Republic. More Central African Republic refugees are likely to sign up for voluntary repatriation, although it may be difficult to reach the goal of repatriating 4,000 Central African Republic refugees this year.

    Far North region

    • Average to below-average off-season crops caused mainly by prolonged flooding after October resulting in a late start for off-season production, especially dry season sorghum, as most of the plains, especially in the Logone-et-Chari department, remain flooded until December 2020.

    Northwest and Southwest regions

    • Stock depletion from November/December (3 to 5 months earlier) which will continue at a faster pace for poor households in the Northwest and Southwest regions due to below-average production in the 2019 to 2020 season.
    • Longer lean season for English-speaking regions: The lean season that typically runs from March to May will likely start in February for most poor households due to early depletion of food reserves.


    Across the country, most households will consume their own crops until February 2021. Stocks from the 2019 to 2020 season are expected to follow typical seasonal depletion, with the lowest levels expected during the lean season from March to May 2021. Food insecurity for poor households throughout the country outside of conflict-affected areas will remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout the entire projection period.

    The East and Adamawa regions host 314,780 refugees from the Central African Republic (UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], November 2020), 30 percent of whom live in developed sites. The presence of these refugees increases market demand in host communities, driving up basic food prices by 25 to 50 percent compared to the same period in a normal year. Refugees’ loss of livestock and other productive assets, low farm incomes due to inadequate access to land and inputs, limited humanitarian assistance, and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to negatively impact food consumption and livelihoods.

    With most poor households in the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions already facing threats of food insecurity following the rapid and early depletion of food reserves, as well as rising basic food prices alongside low purchasing power and insufficient humanitarian assistance, the number of people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity will continue to rise and will peak during the lean season starting in February. This will lead to atypically high prices, which are expected to persist or continue to rise during the lean season, and below-average incomes should push poor households to engage in crisis survival strategies earlier. Food insecurity for the approximately 0.5 percent of poor households who did not grow crops during the 2019 to 2020 season and have no access to humanitarian assistance or markets, most of whom live in insecure and inaccessible locations, is likely to further escalate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Most poor and displaced households in Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari affected by the Boko Haram insurrection will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity until May 2021 as their livelihood activities are disrupted alongside their low purchasing power. Food assistance will help maintain food security, but will remain insufficient to meet the needs of all at-risk households.

    Events that could change the scenario

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



    Impact on food security conditions


    Increased border movements and trade flows with Nigeria

    With the planned reopening of Nigeria’s borders, the increased population movements and trade flows would likely increase the incomes of households depending on cross-border trade and increase the supply of tradable commodities such as cereals and legumes.


    Figure 1


    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top