Skip to main content

In conflict zones, harvest shortfalls to trigger an early start of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Cameroon
  • December 2023
In conflict zones, harvest shortfalls to trigger an early start of the lean season

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a typical year in the Far North region
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country through at least mid-2024. Due to insecurity and conflict, many poor households in these areas have now exhausted staple grain reserves from the 2023 main season, and harvests from the ongoing off-season remain below average. This situation will likely lead to an early onset of the lean season from January/February instead of March, with households having to increase their reliance on market purchases for basic grains amid rising and above-average prices. Furthermore, many are likely to start 2024 with outstanding debts and accumulate more debt to cope with the high food prices during the lean season. To meet their minimum food needs, households are expected to adopt more severe livelihood and consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as sending family members to eat elsewhere, reducing adult food portions in favor of children, and reducing the size and frequency of daily meals.
    • In the Far North region's Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Tsanaga divisions, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will continue until January 2024. Though sorghum, rice, maize, and legume stocks from the 2023 season are below average, they will sustain minimal food consumption for many households during this period. However, due to consecutive seasons of below-average production caused by Islamist insurgency, household stocks will likely be depleted by February 2024—three to four months earlier than usual. Consequently, households will heavily rely on market purchases amidst escalating prices, straining food consumption and incomes. From February to mid-2024, many households are projected to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and will likely resort to reducing meal portions and frequency or selling off any remaining productive assets. A small proportion of the worst-off households, particularly those displaced multiple times due to conflicts, insecurity, and flooding who have been unable to cultivate their own food or access food assistance, are likely to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes during this period.
    • Area-level outcomes in the urban centers of Yaoundé and Douala are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Access to food for poor urban households in these cities, who mostly rely on market purchases for basic food, is expected to remain limited due to persistently high and increasing food and fuel prices. Although income-earning opportunities have improved after the COVID-19 pandemic, income levels for many poor households are expected to remain low and not keep pace with rising prices. The rest of the country, particularly areas with no armed conflict, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase een1) acute food insecurity through May 2024. Households in these areas are expected to continue having near-normal access to own-produced food stocks and typical income sources. This will enable them to maintain nearly average access to market purchases despite increasing food prices. 

    Current Situation

    Conflict, insecurity, and displacement: Fighting between government forces and Separatist fighters continues in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country (for additional information, see the October Food Security Outlook report). While the level of violence has remained consistent with that observed during the same period in 2022, there has been a rise in targeted attacks and violence on civilians during the last quarter of the year partly due to Separatist attempts to disrupt political events and national celebrations, as well as the improved mobility of armed groups due to the dry season making roads more accessible. Recent attacks have resulted in new displacements, including about 380 people who were forced to flee their homes after a November attack on the village of Egbekaw (Manyu division of the Southwest region). During the attack, several houses were set ablaze, and at least 25 people were killed (OCHA). In the Far North, specifically in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, ISWAP has continued attacking government forces and carrying out several incursions and attacks amongst local populations, including on sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Data collected by IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix suggest that approximately 1657 individuals were recently displaced from the districts of Mokolo and Mayo-Moskota to other parts of the Mayo-Tsanaga division between early November and early December. Between October 1st and December 5th, 2023, ACLED reported 125 conflict events and 126 fatalities in Logone et Chari, Mayo Sava, and Mayo Tsanaga, as well as 22 incidents and 84 fatalities in the Northwest and Southwest regions. The security situation in the Far North, Northwest, and Southwest regions remains volatile, causing significant disruptions to livelihood activities, trade flows, market access, and market functioning. 

    Crop production: Harvesting of off-season maize, legumes, and irrigated rice is underway in the southern unimodal and bimodal regions until the end of December. Near-average cumulative August-October rainfall has facilitated off-season production in these areas. In the northern unimodal zone, dry-season sorghum fields are being weeded and fertilized. Most localities, especially those within the Logone floodplains, are benefiting from stored soil moisture from the seasonal floods. There have been reports of fall armyworm infestations on various sorghum and maize fields in the northern region, particularly in the Diamaré, Mayo-Danay, and Mayo-Kani subdivisions. While the government is implementing measures to control infestations, increased pesticide costs may hamper households' ability to manage pests effectively. National off-season cereal production is estimated to be at average levels, with localized deficits in the Northwest and Southwest regions due to insecurity. On the other hand, harvesting of the main-season maize and sorghum crops has rounded up across the northern zone, with production estimated to be average. However, below-average production persists in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, where the surface area planted remains significantly decreased because of continuing conflict and insecurity. Ongoing strong El Niño conditions have not significantly impacted the 2023/24 season in Cameroon, and the country has not historically experienced significant rainfall anomalies during El Niño years.

    National inflation: The inflation rate in Cameroon has been steadily increasing and remains high. According to a report released by the National Institute of Statistics in November, the annual inflation rate in Cameroon rose to an average of 7.8 percent in September 2023. This is a significant increase from the inflation rate of 6.3 percent in 2022 and 2.3 percent in 2021. The rise in inflation is mainly attributable to the surge in food prices and transport costs, which had inflation rates of 12.8 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively, in 2023. 

    Commodity markets: Markets nationwide function normally outside conflict zones, with most locally harvested staples supplied at seasonally normal levels due to an overall average main season harvest. In addition, many areas in the south are benefiting from off-season maize and rice supplies, which are complementing traders’ and households’ stocks. However, conflict and insecurity continue to hinder market access and functioning in the Northwest, Southwest, and parts of the Far North regions. Staple grain supplies at markets in these conflict-affected regions continue to be lower than usual due to consecutive seasons of below-average production coupled with disrupted trade flows. In certain remote areas, rice supplies have been scarce for several months. Furthermore, dry beans, which serve as a substitute for meat and fish for many poor households, have been reported to be scarce in most markets in the Southwest region during November and December. Production in the major basins in the Northwest remains below average, limiting supplies. On the other hand, household demand for purchased food is increasing seasonally as stocks deplete, being reinforced by purchases ahead of Christmas and end-of-year celebrations. In areas affected by conflict, they are relying more on market purchases than usual and doing so earlier than in a typical year due to low and rapidly depleting own-produced stocks.

    Figure 2

    Observed and projected price prices of imported rice in Douala (Marché central), Cameroon, in 2023 compared to last year and the five-year average
    Shows projected changes in imported rice prices in Douala over the course of the next several months. Grey bars represent the five year averages, the blue line represents the previous years prices, and the dotted lines above show projected prices within an upper and lower bound.

    Source: FEWS NET estimates based on data from DRADER

    Commodity prices: Data collected by FEWS NET indicates that prices for most staple foods in Cameroon remained stable between November and the second week of December despite the seasonal rise in demand. This is likely due to additional supplies from off-season harvesting and the government's efforts to control prices. However, food prices remain moderately high compared to last year and significantly above the five-year average, primarily due to reduced production in conflict-affected areas, disrupted trade flows, and increased transport costs. In December, maize and cassava prices in Yaoundé and Douala were 24.8 percent and 18.5 percent higher than the five-year average and slightly higher than last year, respectively. In the Northwest and Southwest regions, maize and beans increased by 15 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared to last year and the five-year average. In the Far North region, sorghum prices remained 46-64 percent above the five-year average in most markets, rising by 8-13 percent during harvesting in November and December. This atypical seasonal trend in prices of the harvested crops is associated partly with localized production deficits in conflict areas and, on the other hand, with increased demand from neighboring countries like Nigeria and Chad. Another contributing factor is rising fuel and transportation costs in this zone, exacerbated by the removal of Nigeria's fuel subsidies. Similarly, imported rice prices across the country have remained steady during most of the last half of the year but are still more than double the five-year average. This is due to a persistent decrease in international imports into the country, elevated global prices, and increasing shipping costs. In the urban reference markets of Yaoundé and Douala, the cost of a kilogram of imported rice in December was 29-34 percent higher than the average price in 2020 and the preceding five years.

    Throughout the country, transportation costs have remained high during the last semester of the year due to persistently high fuel prices and periodic fuel shortages, which have kept commodity prices elevated in many areas. While diesel and gasoline's official pump prices have been stable since their increase last February, informal retail prices have continued to rise in many rural areas, leading to increased transportation expenses for many households. In December, fuel deliveries to Cameroon were disrupted, resulting in several days of shortages, long queues at petrol stations, and fuel rationing in several cities. 

    While fertilizer prices throughout the country remain above their five-year average, data collected by FEWS NET shows that prices have significantly decreased in most local markets. Urea and NPK fertilizers are being sold at prices 37 percent and 19 percent lower, respectively, compared to the same period last year. The Ministry of Agriculture’s fertilizer subsidy program has distributed thousands of tons of lower-cost fertilizer to producers. However, many households have been unable to benefit as the subsidized prices are still unaffordable for poor and very poor households. 

    Pastoral conditions: Local and regional nomadic groups (Chad and Nigeria) have started migrating their livestock from the northern to the southern grazing lands, particularly to the Logone floodplains. Nevertheless, seasonal livestock movements in these zones continue to be hindered by widespread insecurity, cattle theft, and seizure by armed groups. On the other hand, livestock belonging to less nomadic agropastoral households are currently grazing on crop residue from the main season. However, crop residue is scarce in conflict-affected areas due to below-average cultivation. Many livestock farmers have decreased their seasonal sales because of near-average harvests in most agropastoral areas in the northern zone during the just-ended main season. They are now benefiting from crop sales to boost their household incomes, with livestock supply staying below average in conflict-affected markets. Demand for large ruminants, particularly cattle, in local markets is increasing ahead of Christmas and end-of-year festivities. Livestock prices across the country have remained higher than last year's and the five-year average in most markets. This increase is attributed to rising costs of feed complements, veterinary treatment, nutritional supplements, and transportation. However, since September, prices have slightly declined due to reduced demand from Nigerian buyers affected by the depreciation of the Nigerian Naira. For example, cattle prices during the last 30 days have declined by an average of 13 percent in the Yagoua, Mokolo, Maorua, and Kaele markets.

    Humanitarian assistance: According to statistics from the Northwest-Southwest Food Security Cluster, WFP and its partners provided in-kind distributions and cash-based transfers to nearly 265,304 people in the Northwest and Southwest regions in November. This included about 105 metric tons of mixed food commodities (rice, pulse, vegetable oil, salt) in the Meme and Manyu divisions of the Southwest region and about 176 metric tons in the Boyo, Bui, Donga-Mantung, Menchum, Momo, Mezam, and Ngoketunjia divisions of the Northwest region. Current rations cover more than 30 percent of daily kilocalorie needs. FEWS NET assesses that ongoing humanitarian food assistance is likely reducing food consumption gaps for some beneficiaries, although unlikely to reach 25 percent of the total population at the divisional or regional level.


    Seasonal Calendar for a typical year in the Far North region
    Seasonal calendar for the Far North region of Cameroon

    Source: FEWS NET


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Cameroon Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • FEWS NET's price projections show that imported rice prices in the urban reference market of Douala (Marché central) during the scenario period will trend substantially above last year and the five-year averages (Figure 1). Prices will rise steadily until June 2024 due to the anticipated inflationary pressure caused by increased fuel and transportation costs and reduced import levels.
    • According to the Northwest/Southwest Food Security Cluster, WFP and its partners plan to provide monthly in-kind distributions and cash-based transfers to nearly 350,886 people in the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2024. Assistance will be prioritized for the most vulnerable populations, including IDPs, returnees, refugees, and host communities. FEWS NET assumes that assistance is unlikely to reach 25 percent of the total population at the divisional or regional level despite slightly higher monthly targets for 2024 than for 2023.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    Households in the Northwest and Southwest region are expected to continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through mid-2024. The impacts of conflict and insecurity, exacerbated by elevated food prices, will continue limiting household food availability and access, increasing food consumption gaps. Furthermore, most households will start 2024 with high debts and little or no staple grain stocks, which will likely lead to an early lean season experience beginning in January/February instead of March typically, forcing households to rely more on market purchases and at prices well above average. To meet their minimum food needs, households are expected to adopt more severe livelihood and consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as sending family members to eat elsewhere, reducing adult food portions in favor of children, and reducing the size and frequency of daily meals.

    In the Far North region's Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Tsanaga divisions, sorghum, rice, maize, and legume stocks from the just-ended 2024 season are expected to support minimal household food consumption and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes until January 2024. However, due to consecutive seasons of below-average production and disrupted livestock sales resulting from the impact of Islamist insurgence, households in these areas that typically still have sufficient cereal stocks after January each year will be forced to depend on market purchases amid rising and above-average prices. This situation is expected to put pressure on food consumption and incomes, with many households expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes between February and May 2024 and resort to unsustainable coping mechanisms such as borrowing and selling remaining productive assets to pay for essential non-food expenses such as school fees or medical care. A small proportion of the worst-off households, particularly those displaced multiple times due to conflicts, insecurity, flooding, and being unable to cultivate their own food or access food assistance, will likely face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes during this period.

    In the eastern part of Cameroon, specifically in the Mbéré division of the Adamawa region and Kadey and Lom-et-Djerem divisions of the East region, where a majority of the refugees from the Central African Republic are residing, Stressed (IPC Phase 2), area-level outcomes are expected to persist until at least May 2024. The low income of many poor households, both refugees and host communities, due to increased competition over jobs and natural resources, coupled with high prices, will continue to suppress purchasing power for basic needs, forcing many to maintain minimal food consumption and resort to negative coping strategies. Some very poor households will likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during this period.

    Much of Cameroon, particularly areas with no conflict, is expected to continue experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity through May 2024. This is attributed to the near-normal access to own-produced food stocks and typical income sources, enabling them to maintain nearly average access to market purchases despite increasing food prices. However, access to food for poor urban households in Yaoundé and Douala, who mostly rely on market purchases for basic food, is expected to remain limited due to persistently high and increasing food and fuel prices. Although opportunities for earning income in these cities have improved after the COVID-19 pandemic, income levels for many poor households are expected to remain low and not keep pace with rising prices. Area-level outcomes are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in these cities.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Cameroon Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: In conflict zones, harvest shortfalls to trigger an early start of the lean season, 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.

    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