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Atypical start to the lean season in February 2021 in the Northwest and Southwest

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Cameroon
  • February 2021
Atypical start to the lean season in February 2021 in the Northwest and Southwest

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Household food reserves in the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions are depleting atypically quickly due to a fourth consecutive season of below average production and below-average agricultural incomes in 2020. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated in February, with more and more households expected to face same or worse outcomes as the lean season progresses.

    • Ongoing off-season harvests in the Far North are improving food and income access for poor households. However, production remains below average in Logone and Chari. Poor households in Mayo Sava and Logone et Chari facing significant disruptions to their typical livelihood activities from insecurity are likely facing  Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes.

    • In Mbere and Kadey divisions, above average staple food prices and below average incomes due to competition with refugees from the Central African Republic over employment opportunities continue to expose host communities to Stress (IPC Phase 2) situations. Currently, more than 5000 new refugees entering Garoua Boulai since December 2020 is adding to the already large refugee presence.  The closure of the main roads connecting CAR since December 2020 is significantly disrupting cross border trade and transhumance and increase current food prices in the main border towns of Garoua Boulai and Kentzou by 20-30 percent.


    Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: Global supply chain disruptions and land border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hamper Cameroon’s economy particularly its urban informal sector. Nationwide, total number of cases have been increasing, with an upsurge in daily cases observed since January 2021, and current numbers (1 864 cases per day as of 24th February) comparable to that of June and July 2020.  Government measures to curb the spread of the virus which remain largely unchanged like social distancing and land border closures continue to negatively impact livelihood reducing job and daily incomes opportunities, especially for poor households in the urban areas.  Also, disruptions in local supply chains and speculations by traders is maintaining prices of certain staples slightly to moderately above average compared to 5 year average.

    Agricultural production: Land preparatory activities for the 2021 cropping season started timely in January with planting expected in March once rains begin. However, start of season activities remain hampered in anglophone regions where fighting and violence persists.

    In the northern part of the country, off-season harvests are ongoing and are average overall except in Mayo Sava and Logone et Chari where insecurity, wild bird attacks and flooding of some plains during transplantation are driving below average harvests.

    COVID-19 restrictions continue to negatively affect access to farm input, with some remote areas around the country recording up to 15% increase in fertilizer prices compared to before COVID-19. Compared to 2019, widely used inorganic fertilizers like Urea and NPK currently sell 10-12% higher in most remote parts of the country.

    Pastoral production: Border closures tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and insecurity that reduces livestock movements are constraining livestock migration between the south and the north, and across borders within the Lake Chad basin and with the Central African Republic, pushing herds to congregate in atypical locations further in-country and resulting in earlier and more severe degeneration of pasture and water resources in the ongoing dry season and resulting in poor body conditions and below average supplies of livestock products. Along areas bordering the Central African Republic, some herds have been held at the border towns following the closure of Cameroon-Central African Republic borders in December 2020. On the other hand, the massive relocation of cattle from the conflict affected North West region into Adamawa and West regions continue to put pressure on limited pasture and water resources, also pose a potential cause for farmer-grazer conflicts.

    Staple food prices: Staple food prices nationwide are increasing seasonally but close to average, as stocks gradually deplete and follow typical seasonal patterns to reach lowest levels in June. In urban towns hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, current staple food prices remain 10-15% higher than same period in normal years. In northern regions, off-season harvest is stabilizing prices of dry season sorghum and onion, with overall prices remaining above the five-year average, and slightly higher than same time last year.  Insufficient domestic rice production, the ongoing crisis in the North West and South West regions and an estimated 70% drop in rice importation in 2020 due to COVID-19 coupled with high demand is maintaining rice prices about 30 percent above the five-year average. While cattle prices remain stable, current prices of small ruminants in some markets in the Far North region (Moulvoudaye, Gazawa and Mokolo) are seasonally decreasing as most transhumant pastoralists are destocking their animals in preparation for transhumance to Yaéré flooded plains.

    Labour and income sources: Current sources of poor households’ incomes are sale of agricultural, livestock and fishery products, agricultural labor, sale of firewood and charcoal and non-timber forest products. Fishing (mainly artisanal) that kicked off in October around Maga and Lake Chad in the Far North, and in the estuary in Douala and Bakassi area is average and is boosting poor households’ incomes for estuarine households. With the ongoing cropping season in the southern parts of Cameroon, the demand for agricultural labour is increasing for land preparation, tilling and weeding and incomes will remain average through to harvests.. This will likely boost household incomes for most IDPs from the North West and South West regions residing in the Centre, Littoral and West regions who provide agricultural labour to large scale farmers. Casual labour demand and rates in urban cities are currently average, but higher than in the first three months following the onset of COVID-19. According to key informants, Yaoundé and Douala witnessed a drop in construction activities in the second quarter of 2020 when the pandemic started decreased rates of casual labour on construction sites by 7% compared to same time between 2015-2019. However, these rates stabilized when construction activities revived towards the last quarter of 2020.

    Pastoral incomes are currently below average as livestock export markets remain constrained by trade disruptions caused by insecurity and COVID-related land border closures. Prices of most small ruminants in major livestock markets in the northern zone are dropping, as transhumant pastoralists are destocking preparation for transhumance. The Mbororo pastoralists communities are currently facing an elevated risks of livelihoods deterioration haven lost most or all of their livestock due to persisting conflict and insecurity.

    Cross-border trade between Cameroon, Nigeria and CAR:  Following the announcement by the Nigerian government of a gradual reopening of its land borders, and the effective reopening of its borders with Benin in December 2020, Nigeria has not yet opened its borders with Cameroon and it is not clear if it intends to do so in the nearest future given ongoing levels of insecurity in both countries. Additionally, there has been no indication that the government of Cameroon plans to open its land borders.  Currently, informal and formal trade flow of agricultural and pastoral products on the Maiduguri-Mora-Maroua and Maiduguri-Fotokol-Kousseri corridors continues, however remains below average, likewise cross border trade between Cameroon and CAR.

    Conflict and insecurity, displacement and humanitarian assistance: Persistent insecurity in the Far North region continue to disrupt livelihood activities and drive internal displacements especially in the Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga and Logone & Chari Divisions faced with new insurgent attacks from non-state armed groups. Also, refugee influx from North East Nigeria to the Minawao refugee camp and other safer areas within border towns remain high as non-state armed groups intensify attacks. Humanitarian assistance to 96 000 IDPs, 6 000 refugees out of camps and 43 000 returnees remains hampered by insufficient funding and insecurity, exposing them to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worst food security outcomes.

    The December 2020 presidential elections in Central African Republic that resulted to resurgence in violence has led to the displacement of about 4 800 CAR refugees into the East region of Cameroon. Due to the current crisis in the Central African Republic, the planned voluntary repatriation operation of CAR refugees in East and Adamawa regions of Cameroon that continued early December 2020, remains disrupted.

    Prolonged conflicts in the North West and South West regions continue to disrupt agricultural and livelihood activities through frequent lock downs, kidnappings and killing of civilians. Currently, the NWSW records 705,800 displaced persons within or beyond the regions (OCHA, January 2021). The upsurge in kidnapping, killing, violence with forceful displacement continues to erode poor households’ coping mechanisms and continuously exposing them to acute food insecurity.


    The most likely food security scenario from February to September 2021 is based on fundamental suppositions related to changes in the national context, specifically:

    • Likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19: Due to a recent upsurge in number of daily new COVID-19 cases and a likely second wave of the pandemic the government of Cameroon will likely maintain current restrictions such as social distancing and land border closures persist throughout 2021. However, it is unlikely that the government will re-impose crowd and movement restrictions and that the impact of a second wave reaches the same magnitude as in April 2020, when restriction measures were first put in place by the Government. Cameroon's informal sector and its economy will continue to function below-average as several countries re-establish and/or tighten restrictive measures, and global supply chains remain hampered in the face of a second wave.
    • Timely start of rains and an averagely wet season: Predictions from NMME shows that the 2021 rainy season is expected to start on time in March for the Southern part, and in June for the northern part of the country. Cumulative total rainfall amounts are predicted to be average to above average. However, based on the characteristics of the last seasons, dry spells of about 7-14 CDDs are expected between mid-March and April in the South and between June and July in the Northern part. Based on rainfall patterns for the Northern parts over the past five years, it is likely that rainfall cessation expected as from September be delayed.
    • Average agricultural production except in conflict zones: National agricultural production in the upcoming season is projected to be overall average, driven by a predicted favorable weather condition and government and partner commitments to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 through input support. In conflict regions of Northwest and Southwest, another consecutive year of below average production is most likely. In the Far North region, though average level production is predicted for the main cropping season, persistent insurgency and insecurity will likely hamper agricultural activities in Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga and Logone & Chari and result in localized below average production.  
    • Below average pastoral production and cross-border transhumance: National livestock output is expected to be below average due to decline in pastoral production in the Far North and the Northwest due to ongoing conflict and reduction in the importation of livestock inputs due to COVID-19 related land border closures. Below average cross-border transhumance activities within the Lake Chad basin due to border closures will continue to hinder livestock movements causing early degeneration of pastures during the dry season.  Transhumance activities between Cameroon and Chad via the Touboro borders in the North of Cameroon will likely continue while transhumance activities between the East borders of Cameroon and Central African Republic (CAR) will be hampered due to recent conflict and insecurity in CAR.
    • Cross-border trade between Nigeria, Chad, CAR Cameroon: Trade flow will continue to function at below average levels as cross border trade will remain informal. Likewise, cross border trade between Cameroon and CAR will likely remain disrupted by ongoing socio-political crisis in CAR, as the transport network is operating at below-normal levels. As the Chadian government continues to tighten COVID-19 restriction measures (closure of air and land borders, multiple curfews, reinforcing containment measures), trade flows between Cameroon and Chad will likely remain at below average levels through September 2021.
    • Markets: Staple food prices nationwide are expected to increase gradually towards the lean season, but will stay close to average. In urban towns hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, staple food prices will stay higher than their five-year averages. Although, global rice productions are projected to increase compared to 2020, imported rice prices in Cameroon will remain about 30 percent above average due to the shortage of stocks and high transaction costs on the international supply chain. Market supplies will continue to follow typical seasonal trends, reaching lowest levels in June, but will remain sufficient and regular overall except in conflict-affected regions. . Prices for cattle may fall slightly below average due to reduction in cross-border trade.
    • Household incomes: Agricultural labour availability will likely increase as the cropping season progresses but will stay average through September 2021, though demand for activities like clearing and weeding may increase if herbicides prices increase due to importation restrictions and are expected to generate average incomes. New harvests in starting July will improve income from sales of own produce. Casual labour availability and labour rates in urban areas will likely stay average but lower than before COVID-19.
    • Conflict and insecurity, displacement and humanitarian assistance: Insecurity will persist in the Far North and the Northwest and Southwest at previously observed levels and follow previously observed seasonal tendencies. Conflict will continue to drive displacements from the Northwest and Southwest and within Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga and Logone & Chari, with a new influx of refugees from North East Nigeria to the Minawao refugee camp and other safer areas within border towns. The December 2020 presidential elections in Central African Republic that resulted to resurgence in violence has led to the displacement of about 4 800 CAR refugees into the East region of Cameroon. Insecurity will likely persist through 2021 if insurgent activities by the new Coalition of Patriots for Change-CPC (rebel coalition of six armed groups) are not put under control by MINUSCA or foreign interventions from other countries. Due to the current crisis in CAR, the planned voluntary repatriation operation of CAR refugees in East and Adamawa regions of Cameroon that continued early December 2020, will be disrupted until the crisis situation in CAR improves considerably.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Most poor households are currently relying on own harvests to meet their food needs until March due to an overall average national production in 2020. After lean season starts in March, these households will likely complement household stocks with purchase from markets.  Food prices will typically increase seasonally but stay close to average through May as stocks deplete, but incomes boost from petty trade and agricultural labour will maintain most poor households in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. The main harvests that starts in July and that are predicted average will likely improve local staple food availability at the household level, stabilize/decrease prices improving food and incomes for poor households through September 2021.

    In the Northwest and Southwest, where conflict significantly reduced 2020 production, an atypical start to the lean season is expected in February, with an increase in households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3 outcomes). However, following harvests in July, most households will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September 2021. In the Far North, Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgence is disrupting typical livelihood activities in Mayo Sava and Logone et Chari, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes until the harvest in September. Additionally, above average staple food prices and below average incomes continue to expose CAR refugee host communities in Mbere and Kadey divisions to Stress (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity until the harvest in September, with those in Garoua Boulai (Lom et Djerem division) facing worse outcomes due to increasing pressure from newly arrived refugees.

    Despite the general economic downturn, the informal sector in urban areas is seeing some revival, although it continues to operate below average. Although fear of virus contamination, social distancing measures, and land border closures may continue to hamper informal business activities, households dependent on the informal sector for their livelihoods have improving income to enable them to survive. However, highly vulnerable households such as refugees and IDPs, most of whom have no source of income, will face food security conditions of Stress (IPC Phase 2).


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



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Reopening of the borders between Cameroon and Nigeria and Cameroon and CAR

    Cross-border exchanges and transhumance between the two countries will likely be restored, boosting formal and informal export and household incomes      

    A new wave of COVID-19 cases

    A new wave of COVID-19 will cause the Government to likely tighten restriction measure like closure of air sea and land borders, social distancing measures, urban transport network which will negatively affect urban economy and reduce daily income opportunities for poor households in the informal sector

    Late start to the rainy season or insufficient rains

    A late start to the rainy season could delay planting activities and crop maturation. Insufficient rainfall during periods of crop growth could lead to below average local production and a subsequent increase in prices of staple foods in July.

    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, avec données de DRADER, Littoral

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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