Food Security Outlook

A fourth consecutive season of below-average production in the Northwest and Southwest regions

June 2020

June - September 2020

October 2020 - January 2021

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Cameroon is among the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic in Central and West Africa, with 12,592 confirmed cases and 313 deaths as of June 29, 2020. Although some social-distancing restrictions (curfew, travel restrictions and gatherings) were lifted in April, depressed economic conditions are negatively impacting everyday income-generating opportunities for poor households.

  • COVID-19 continues to take the heaviest toll on poor households in the two largest cities (Yaoundé and Douala), where some food prices have risen above seasonal levels as a result of disruptions to local supply chains and speculative trading practices. Poor households in these cities are Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while a percentage of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and urban refugees are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) on account of their reduced purchasing power. However, the Government has taken measures to contain price increases to below 10 percent.

  • As of late June, most poor households in the Northwest and Southwest regions have depleted their food stocks and staple food prices are 30 percent higher than they were in the same period prior to the onset of the conflict. Since the second week of June, however, some poor households have begun to harvest beans and potatoes. As the harvest progresses, prices should stabilize and poor households will have improved access to food. Despite this, these regions are projected to experience below-average harvests for the fourth consecutive year.

NATIONAL OVERVIEW

Current Situation

The first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Cameroon in early March 2020, in Yaoundé and Douala, from where the disease has spread to all 10 regions of the country. As of June 29, there were 12,592 confirmed cases nationwide. The Government began lifting certain restrictions (curfew, travel restrictions and gatherings) on May 1. Economic conditions remain depressed on account of border closures and restrictions on non-essential travel, leading to job losses and a decline in everyday income, and leaving poor households with reduced purchasing power. The pandemic is increasing the vulnerability of displaced persons and refugees, especially those working in the informal sector in the country’s two largest cities (Yaoundé and Douala), where activity has slowed.

The Government conducted a national survey between April 26 and May 10, 2020 to measure the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon. Of the 770 businesses and 1,310 individuals who took part, 65 percent of respondents said their income had fallen, 74 percent reported a slowdown in activity, and 62.7 percent said their standard of living had deteriorated.

The rains arrived on time at the start of the season. Total cumulative precipitation was near-average and in line with seasonal forecasts for February to June 2020 (North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME)), ensuring normal crop growth and development and average agricultural production at the national level.

However, due to the ongoing insecurity, the total amount of cultivated land was below average in conflict-affected areas of the country for the fourth consecutive year (approximately 35 percent below average for maize and 58 percent for rice), in line with the trends observed in the past three years.

In the Far North region, poor households and IDPs are steadily depleting their food stocks during the lean season, which begins in June and ends with the new harvests in September. The current growing season is progressing as normal, with planting commencing on time on June 17. Improved seeds remain expensive and beyond the reach of many poor households, forcing them to turn to seeds of dubious quality. However, some IDPs and other vulnerable households in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga and Logone-et-Chari departments have recently received improved sorghum, maize and market-garden seeds from the Government (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER)), as well as from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), INTERSOS, Action Against Hunger (ACF), the French Red Cross (CRF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Caritas/Diocesan Committee of Social Welfare (CODASC), and Solidarités International.

The recent Boko Haram attacks, which have involved looting of food and livestock, are damaging the livelihoods of poor families because farmers are reluctant to work in their fields for fear of violence, especially in the Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava and Mayo-Tsanaga departments.

Following the closure of the borders between Sudan, Chad and Cameroon to transhumance pastoralists due to the COVID-19 restrictions, livestock became concentrated in the Far North region of the country, causing early degradation of pastures and depletion of crop residues. Because livestock were in poor physical condition, herds were forced to move deeper into the country and southward in search of pastures and water. However, the arrival of the rains in the Far North region in mid-June promoted new pasture growth and filled surface water points, steadily improving access to feed for livestock.

Farmers in conflict-affected areas are continuing to move their animals to neighboring regions to escape widespread theft and seizure of livestock and kidnapping of livestock farmers. At present, livestock from the Northwest region are concentrated in the Adamawa region, exerting greater pressure on the pastoral resources of host communities.

As is normally the case in the lean season, the availability of staple food at markets is lower than in the previous months of the commercial growing season, although supply is generally sufficient to meet current demand from households and institutional purchases. For 2020, local food availability by weight is currently sufficient to meet the population’s food needs, with gross availability per person per year standing at an estimated 560 kg (MINADER, 2020). Cereal stocks for 2020 are as follows: over 1,887,000 metric tons of maize and 295,000 metric tons of rice. Market supplies should improve following the July harvest.

However, reduced trade flows between urban and rural areas—caused by the conflict in English-speaking regions and by the COVID-19 restrictions—are affecting staple food prices. COVID-19 has been identified as a major cause of higher prices nationally in the second quarter. As a result, inflation is expected to be higher than the 2.6 percent figure recorded in the first quarter of 2020. Fear of contracting the virus, social-distancing measures and border closures are continuing to restrict the flow of rice, fish and other imported goods from Douala and Yaoundé to the rest of the country, as well as hindering the movement of locally produced food. As a result, prices for some staple foods are higher than their seasonal averages, especially in Yaoundé and Douala. Yet these price rises are also caused by speculative practices and artificial shortages created by some wholesalers, although government-imposed rules and measures are containing the increases to below 10 percent. The economic slowdown, coupled with above-average prices for imported products, is eroding the purchasing power of poor households, especially in urban and insecure areas.

In the Far North region, the prices of local products (maize and sorghum) are below average because average levels of agricultural production over recent seasons mean that market supply is sufficient.

Current demand for staple food among poor households is also at its highest due to seasonal depletion of household food stocks. After three consecutive years of poor harvests, households in English-speaking regions began depleting their stocks earlier than usual. Poor households began buying food in November, just four months after the start of the harvest. By contrast, in conflict-free years, this gap is typically between 8 and 11 months.

As a result of the closure of the land borders with Nigeria due to the conflict in the Lake Chad basin and in the English-speaking areas near the Nigerian border, most livestock trade is southward to Douala, Yaoundé and neighboring countries such as Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. However, travel restrictions linked to COVID-19 and the slowdown in the transport system are continuing to disrupt these trade opportunities. Trucks carrying livestock from the north of the country to target markets are currently taking longer than usual to cross the borders due to enhanced customs checks, thereby driving up transport costs. Despite this, large livestock prices at the main markets remain largely unchanged compared with previous months, but are higher than in previous years. Conversely, the prices of livestock for local consumption are higher than in previous months, since this is the time of year when working animals are purchased. Preparations for Eid al-Adha are already influencing demand for rams, which are selling for up to 14 percent more than last month at markets in Maroua, Yagoua and Moulvoudaye.

In most areas of the country, there have been no changes in the usual sources of income for poor households, which rely primarily on the sale of agricultural products. However, most households with no stocks to sell during the lean season have typically turned to small-scale trade, agricultural labor, and selling timber, charcoal and non-wood forest products. The social-distancing measures linked to COVID-19 are limiting access to markets, hindering commercial transactions and slowing down business. Trucks that typically carry non-essential goods are also helping to transport locally produced food to major urban markets. The slowdown in trade of non-essential goods is also disrupting local supply chains, forcing farmers to sell their produce locally for lower prices. In urban centers, most unemployed people, those in informal employment and the self-employed have lost their main sources of income due to a slowdown in commercial activities, job losses and lower demand for labor. In the formal sector, meanwhile, the Government’s national survey on the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 found that 58.2 percent of businesses had reduced the size of their workforce.

Cameroon remains affected by a number of protracted crises. Since January 2020, there have been 178 incidents and 299 deaths related to incursions by Boko Haram, compared with 88 incidents and 154 deaths in the same period in 2019. Most kidnappings and lootings are concentrated in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone-et-Chari departments. In May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recorded over 297,300 IDPs who had fled from Boko Haram attacks. There are also around 115,600 Nigerian refugees living at the Minawao camp and in host households in the Far North region. Fighting is continuing in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon despite one of the separatist militia groups calling for a ceasefire in March 2020. According to the latest UNHCR figures (May 2020), there are around 679,000 conflict-displaced IDPs in the English-speaking regions.

In addition, there are 290,000 refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) in the Est, Nord and Adamawa regions, exerting growing pressure on the resources and living conditions of host communities. Although 70 percent of these refugees from CAR have been fully integrated into their host communities since 2013, the remaining 30 percent are living at dedicated sites and are entirely dependent on humanitarian food assistance (HFA).

In April and May, however, approximately 800 IDPs and refugees returned to the Northwest and Southwest regions from the Littoral region and from Cross River State because they feared contracting COVID-19. In addition, around 1,200 people in the Northwest and Southwest regions returned to their home villages due to poor living conditions in the place to which they were displaced and improved security conditions in their place of origin.

 

Assumptions

The most likely food security scenario from June 2020 to February 2021 is based on the following underlying assumptions regarding trends in nationwide conditions:

  • Spread of the virus: According to expert analysis, including by the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue in the short to medium term. Modeling by the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggests that incidence will peak in Cameroon sometime between late June and late July.
  • Control measures: Although the number of cases in Cameroon is expected to rise, the Government is likely to steadily lift the restrictions, and could fully reopen the country in the coming months. This could cause incidence of the disease to spike.
  • Rainfall: Seasonal forecasts for 2020 suggest above-average rainfall for southern Cameroon and well-above-average rainfall for northern parts of the country between June and September (Regional Climate Outlook Forum for Sudano-Sahelian Africa (PRESASS), 2020).
  • Income sources: 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. Rural populations will continue to have access to their fields, gardens and agricultural activities, but their income will be dented by the high costs of transport to Yaoundé and Douala. Households will also receive less income in the way of remittances, especially from the United States and Europe, because of the impact of the pandemic on job opportunities. However, poor households should see their income increase after the July harvest, although the disruptive influence of COVID-19 on trade flows could continue to reduce access to markets.
  • Agricultural production: Overall, production for the 2020 agricultural season is expected to be broadly average due to favorable climatic conditions during the growing season, ensuring normal crop growth and development. Production will be below average in the Northwest and Southwest regions for the fourth consecutive year. In the Far North region, meanwhile, the main agricultural season (which began in May) is expected to be a success. Based on the features of the last two seasons, however, planting could occur late due to expected pockets of drought at the start of the planting period in June and July. The Ouest region could continue to benefit from the availability of labor due to the presence of IDPs, support for production and an increased share of exports (to the detriment of conflict zones) to Congo and Gabon to increase its production of tomatoes and beans, although agricultural activities and households’ access to fields will remain disrupted in insecure areas.
  • Pastoral production: Forecasts for the coming months indicate favorable climatic conditions for new pasture growth. This, in turn, should improve the physical condition of livestock while easing traditional dry-season competition for pastures and water resources between herds fleeing the conflict in the Northwest and Far North regions and those belonging to host communities in Adamawa region.  Poor households in the Far North region tend to sell more livestock in the lean season (June to August) when food stocks are depleted. If supply increases, prices should follow the seasonal downward trend before rising again once the harvest begins in September. However, lower demand stemming from the reduction in national and regional livestock trade flows due to the slowdown in the transport system linked to COVID-19 could cause prices to fall below average.
  • Markets: The new harvests in July (fresh maize, beans and potatoes) will help to keep prices stable nationwide. This stability is expected to last until September. However, market supplies of harvested food could be below average due to disruptions in trade flows between urban and rural areas caused by fear of contracting COVID-19, social-distancing measures and roadblocks linked to the conflicts in English-speaking regions of the country. Prices of rice, fish and other imported food will remain high because of disruptions to supply chains in producing countries and artificial shortages created by some wholesalers despite government attempts to clamp down on this practice.
  • Continued insecurity in the Northwest, Southwest and Far North regions: The security situation in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga and Logone-et-Chari departments in the Far North region, which face threats from Boko Haram, will continue to give cause for concern. Cross-border incursions could persist throughout the outlook period. English-speaking regions of Cameroon will also remain insecure throughout the outlook period, including ongoing instances of roadblocks and “dead town” days.
  • Rising numbers of refugees and IDPs: The number of displaced persons and refugees will continue to rise amid frequent insurrections by Boko Haram and persistent violence in English-speaking regions of Cameroon. Fear of contracting COVID-19 is also forcing some displaced persons to return to their camps of origin.
  • Fewer refugees returning to CAR: The number of refugees returning to CAR is expected to slow because of the travel restrictions. The voluntary return operation may also face ongoing disruptions for as long as the restrictions remain in place. As a result, the number of refugees from CAR, most of whom are located in the Est and Adamawa regions, is likely to remain unchanged.

Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

With most households in Cameroon starting to harvest beans, potatoes and fresh maize in the final week of June, households are steadily rebuilding their stocks and those with their own production should become less dependent on the markets. Staple food prices are therefore expected to fall as market supply increases. Most poor households throughout the country will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity from July 2020 onward and will continue to have stocks from their own production for the remainder of the outlook period.

 

Although production will be below average in the Northwest and Southwest regions for the fourth consecutive year, new harvests are expected to improve food security outcomes for poor households in these regions, which will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between July and October. However, significantly poorer harvests during the main growing season could cause these households to begin depleting their food stocks earlier than usual, in November. As a result, these households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until January 2021. Some poor households that have not grown their own food in recent seasons due to the ongoing conflict are expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) even during the harvest period.

In addition, projected food security outcomes in those departments with a high influx of refugees (Mbéré in the Adamawa region, and Kadey, Lom and Djerem in the Est region) and IDPs (Bamboutos in the Ouest region) will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) because increased demand will keep prices high and an excess supply of labor will reduce income-generating opportunities.

Most poor households in the Far North region are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity during the lean season and until the start of the harvest in September due to average production in the most recent main growing season. The same situation should apply from October to January once households have rebuilt their stocks. However, in the Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava and Maya-Tsanaga departments, where frequent attacks by Boko Haram have heavily disrupted agricultural activities, most poor households are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period. Poor households in the Mayo-Danay department could also become Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from October due to the decline in dry-season production caused by predicted flooding.

Despite the general economic slowdown, the easing of some measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 has allowed the informal sector to recover in urban areas, although activity remains below average. Although fear of contracting the virus, social-distancing measures and border closures could continue to restrict informal business activity, households whose livelihoods depend on the informal sector now have access to extra income to buy food and to meet other basic needs. As a result, these households will see their food security outcomes improve from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) when the harvest begins in July. However, refugees, IDPs and other extremely vulnerable households, most of which have no source of income, will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

Events that Might Change the Outlook

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

Area

Event

Impact on food security outcomes

National

Flooding, especially in the following departments: Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Danay (Far North region), Ngo-ketunjia and Menchum (Northwest region), Fako (Southwest region) and Wouri (Littoral).

Above-average rainfall in southern Cameroon and well-above-average rainfall in northern parts of the country could cause flooding between June and September, and potentially through to December if the rainfall persists in the north.

The potential impacts on food security will be as follows:

- Displacement of affected populations

- Loss of harvests

- Loss of life and assets, including harvests and agricultural land

- Reduced access to food, drinking water, shelter and health care for poor households.

HFA distribution to poor households affected by COVID-19 begins/increases

An increase in HFA distribution will help to improve access to food for communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially IDPs and refugees in Yaoundé and Douala.

COVID-19 is eliminated, prompting voluntary return of refugees

If COVID-19 is eliminated and people stop crossing the border between Cameroon and CAR, refugees from CAR could be encouraged to return voluntarily, although there is a chance that the UNHCR forecast of 10,000 returnees in 2020 will not be achieved.

 The desert locust swarm reaches the Far North region

If the swarm reaches the region, it will have severe adverse consequences for local agricultural production.

 

 

About Scenario Development

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.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
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