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Food security improved in the Far North, but worsened in the Northwest and Southwest

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Cameroon
  • October 2020
Food security improved in the Far North, but worsened in the Northwest and Southwest

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Despite the recent surge in attacks by Boko Haram, and excessive rainfall leading to flooding in some locations in the Far North, ongoing new harvests have improved food security for many poor households that currently subsist on their own harvests. The harvest of rainfed grains from the primary agricultural campaign in 2020 is estimated to be average, due to favorable weather conditions. Slightly lower than average production is expected in the Logone-et-Chari, Mayo Sava, and Mayo Tsanga departments, where Boko Haram is most active, as well as in locations where harvests were lost to flooding.

    • Current prices at the primary markets in the Far North appear stable or are decreasing. Since July 2020, staple food prices have increased above typical levels. Sorghum and maize are selling at 46 to 60 percent, and 30 to 47 percent higher (respectively) than in July 2019. Although current prices are still above average, sorghum and groundnut prices have decreased by 17 percent and 18 percent as compared to the previous three months.

    • In the Northwest and Southwest regions, where agricultural production was lower than average for four consecutive years due to ongoing socio-political conflicts, this year's harvests are running out earlier than usual. Due to lower than average harvests in July 2020, poor households in the regions most affected by the conflict are already nearly out of stored food. This places them in a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food situation earlier than usual. Agricultural revenue remains lower than average, despite sales of grains and cash crops such as coffee and cacao.

    National Overview

    Current situation


    Cameroon's economy has been functioning at lower-than -usual levels since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, particularly in the informal sector in urban areas.  Some restrictions, such as curfews and travel/group gatherings have been relaxed, and the government has implemented a COVID-19 mitigation strategy including economic support for the informal sector, specifically in the transportation, hotel, restaurant, and retail sectors. However, complete economic recovery has not yet been achieved. Borders remain closed, and social distancing remains in place. This reduces the prospects for informal employment and earning a daily income, and it disrupts the local food supply chain. According to key observers and a September 2020 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (HCR), 85 percent of refugee households in the East and in Adamawa say that their food consumption has dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 60 percent have seen their daily income drop, because border closures have hindered access to food and income, by interrupting internal supply routes to the North and South regions, as well as cross-border trade to Nguembou and Dorofi, in Nigeria.

    Although the number of positive cases in Cameroon continues to rise (to 21,793 as of October 29, 2020), the weekly case total continues to fall, from a high of 2,028 people in July to 47 people at present. As of now, the government has not announced any plans to further ease restrictions or to completely reopen the country.

    Agricultural production for the 2020 growing season in southern Cameroon has been estimated as average. Rainfall was evenly distributed throughout the season, which promotes crop growth and development.

    However, production was below average for the fourth consecutive year in the Northwest and Southwest regions, due to ongoing conflicts. Total cultivated area decreased by approximately 40 percent as compared to years without conflict.

    In the North, multiple drought periods at the beginning of June required farmers to replant crops multiple times. Favorable rainfall at the end of June and July allowed grains to be sown as normal, which favors an average harvest. That has been ongoing since October. Although projected regional production is average overall, five out of six departments will probably see decreased harvests due to flooding in September and October which destroyed 17,656 hectares of crops and affected more than 158,000 people (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, October 2020). 

    In addition to conflicts and insecurity in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North and the associated disruption of agropastoral activities, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in border closures. This has disrupted worldwide supply chains and limited the import of primary veterinary products, pesticides, and fertilizer ingredients, and reduced farmers' ability to meet input needs for the season.  However, government support for inputs (fertilizer, improved seeds, hand tools, and farm equipment) and capacity-building support for farmers has helped to reduce the risk of lower-than-average production.

    Border closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have also disrupted Asian rice imports into Cameroon. In the third quarter of 2020, rice imports decreased by 322 percent as compared to the same period in the previous year, which significantly reduced the amount available for sale, and pushed prices above average. To increase national reserves, Cameroon's government ordered that 200,000 tons of rice be imported tax-free in July, but prices remained above average. The government also prohibited all grain exports to Nigeria and neighboring countries. This practice is suspected of causing the ongoing decrease of rice reserves in Cameroon. Current institutional grain stocks are lower than average as compared to last year, and the demand from agroindustries is lower, due to reduced sales outlets, and market disruptions and closures due to conflicts in the Northwest and Southwest, and to the effects of COVID-19.

    At the national level, the current market supply of locally grown basic products is average, and meets both household and institutional needs. Many poor households currently sell a greater portion of their harvests than in previous months, in order to cover expenses related to the start of the school year in October. Demand from rural households is small, because they continue consuming what they grow. However, regions with below-average production, whether due to insecurity, flooding, or COVID-19, have exhausted their stocks earlier and more quickly than usual, and are already buying certain foods. Market operations and access in insecure conflict zones in the Far North, the Northwest and the Southwest continue to be hindered. Approximately 30 percent of the markets in those regions have seen their offerings and sellers drop by more than 50 percent, as compared to the same period in a typical year.

    Although national commercial cacao production decreased by 2.68 percent as compared to the 2019/2020 campaign, the maximum price paid to producers was 1,300 CFA per kilogram, as compared to 1,270 CFA per kilogram in the previous season. The minimum price at the beginning of the season was 700 CFA per kilogram, as compared to 650 CFA during the previous season (National Cocoa and Coffee Office, September 2020). However, revenue from the sale of agricultural products has remained below average in insecure conflict zones due to below-average harvests. Additionally, due to the economic slowdown caused by measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, commercial activity has continued to be slow, with fewer job prospects and labor demands in urban centers.

    Judging by conditions on the ground and information from key observers, grazing and water are still adequate and sufficient, which ensures that animals will be adequately fattened. However, livestock sale revenues remain below average because of trade disruptions from the primary livestock producing regions (Far North, North, Adamawa, Northwest, and West) to Yaoundé, Douala, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, due to border closures caused by the conflict and by COVID-19. This means that current prices are stable or slightly lower at the primary livestock export markets, as compared to the previous months.  Cross-border livestock trade with Nigeria, Chad, and the Central African Republic has also dropped, as compared to typical years.

    As competition for resources increases, there is the potential for conflict between farmers and livestock raisers, due to herds being moved to the Adamawa and North regions, livestock raisers fleeing the security situation in the Far North, and conflict in the English-speaking regions. According to the International Organization for Migration, 33 alerts were received in August 2020. Although some conflicts have been resolved, most represent retaliation risks for the future.

    Although new harvests are expected to meet poor households' food needs in the upcoming months, households in conflict zones that have abandoned their agricultural activities continue to depend on humanitarian food aid to meet their food needs. In June 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted the presence of 141 humanitarian actors in Cameroon. They offer support in various areas, specifically food security for more than 2 million vulnerable people who have been affected by the Boko Haram insurrection, the crisis in the Central African Republic, and the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions. However, those people's needs are not fully met, due to lack of funding to cover all needs.

    Current indicators for breastfeeding of children 6 to 23 months old are satisfactory at the national level (National Strategy for Food and Nutrition Security [ENSAN], September 2020), but the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is still low: 35.1 percent. In some areas it is 0.00 percent. This is a negative contributor to the nutritional status of children under six years of age: malnutrition, diarrhea, and acute respiratory infections, among others. Additionally, according to recent data from ENSAN, consumption frequency for all food groups other than fruits and vegetables is below average, despite recent harvests. Consumption of protein-rich foods required for children to grow is low. Food diversification is minimal, as is meal frequency. The rate of minimum acceptable diet is also very low.

    The security situation remains concerning in the Far North region, where Boko Haram is a threat, and in the Northwest and Southwest regions, where conflicts between the army and separatist groups are ongoing. Ransom kidnappings, murders, and violence by armed groups in the Northwest and Southwest regions, and frequent attacks by Boko Haram have continued to cause population displacements. Current updates (High Commission for Refugees (HCR), September 30, 2020) show 1,032,492 internally displaced persons due to the crisis in the Northwest, the Southwest, and the Lake Chad basin, along with 425,421 refugees in Cameroon, primarily from Nigeria and the Central African Republic.  Repatriation of refugees from the Central African Republic continues to be disrupted by COVID-19-related border closures. 

    The East, Adamawa, and North regions are still home to nearly 300,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, 70 percent of whom live in developed sites. Despite recent harvests, the high price of basic staple foods caused by increased demand, low supply of livestock, and decreased agricultural revenue due to lack of access to land and inputs, insufficient humanitarian aid, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have negatively affected food consumption and subsistence methods. Basic food prices in the primary markets in Meiganga, Banyo, Batouri, and Bombe have remained high, due to increased demand. Despite an estimated 21.9 percent increase in maize production from 2019 to 2020 (Crop and Food Security Assessment, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, July 2020) in the East region, current prices are still higher than normal.  Additionally, key observers state that more than 70 percent of refugee households in the East region earn less than the monthly minimum wage. Poor access to land has a negative effect on agricultural production and livestock raising. These precarious conditions are worsened by insufficient humanitarian aid and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A 2017 study by OCHA showed that refugee households were committed to adapting in order to become more self-sufficient and to integrate into their host communities, by investing in agriculture, livestock raising, and small business.

    Additionally, the Minawao camp in the Far North is home to some 68,000 refugees fleeing the Boko Haram insurrection in northwest Nigeria (HCR, September 2020). Although those 67,579 refugees recently received two months of food rations from the World Food Program, reduced humanitarian funding has increased food consumption gaps. Additionally, most refugees arrive in a weakened state, with no farming equipment, and are confronted with unfavorable national laws in terms of access to land.

    Last season's production was acceptable, so most poor households in Cameroon's southern regions are currently consuming their own harvest and will continue to do so until January/February 2021. In addition to acceptable food consumption, average income coming from food crops and cash crops has bolstered subsistence methods, maintaining them in a Minimal food security situation (IPC Phase 1). Poor households in the North regions where production is estimated as average will use ongoing rainfed crop harvests to improve access to food and income through the sale of new harvests. This will bring their food security conditions to the Minimal level (IPC Phase 1) until May 2021. Poor households in the departments with frequent Boko Haram attacks (Mayo Sava, Logone-et-Chari and May Tsanaga) and floods (Mayo Danay) are still faced with acute food security (IPC Phase 2), although food availability may improve as harvests pick up. Nigerian refugees in the Minawao camp in Mayo Tsanga department are also faced with Stressed levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 2), through ongoing humanitarian aid.

    In the Northwest and Southwest, four consecutive years of below-average production has exposed poor households in those conflict-affected regions to the results of mediocre food security earlier than expected.  Recent harvests have been depleted faster than predicted, resulting in higher-than-average prices. Although poor households are still in a Stressed situation (IPC Phase 2), those living in inaccessible, insecure areas such as Wabane, in the Lebialem department (Southwest) and Fungom, in the Menchum department (Northwest) are already facing Crisis food security situations (IPC Phase 3).

    Despite recent harvests, the high price of basic staple foods caused by increased demand, low supply of livestock and decreased agricultural revenue due to lack of access to land and inputs, insufficient humanitarian aid, and the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected food consumption and subsistence methods. This exposes refugees from the Central African Republic living in the East (Kadey and Lom and Djerem) and Adamawa (Mbere) to Stressed food insecurity (IPC Phase 2). 


    The most likely scenario from October 2020 to May 2021 is based on fundamental hypotheses related to changes in the national context, specifically:

    • Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and subsistence methods: The informal sector in Cameroon, and the country's economy in general, will continue operating at below-normal levels. The return to normal will take time, despite ongoing efforts and the government's plans to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
    • Rainfall: A normal beginning to the rainy season is projected for March 2021 in southern Cameroon. Forecasts indicate that the country will receive average to above-average rainfall throughout the 2021 rainy season (North American Multi-Model Ensemble[NNME]). 
    • Agricultural production: In addition to current conflicts and insecurity, worldwide supply chain disruptions and border closures caused by COVID-19 will reduce access to agricultural inputs during the next agricultural campaign. However, the predicted favorable weather conditions and the projected increase in government support for inputs, intended to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 will allow agricultural activities to remain at average or slightly higher-than-average levels beginning in March 2021, other than in conflict zones where the agricultural population remains displaced with limited access.
    • Cross-border migration and trade: Cross-border migration and trade with Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and the Central African Republic remain below typical levels. The flow of grain between northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon is expected to slow down until November 2020. The flow of livestock to Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad will continue to be limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, fear of infection, and tighter border and customs controls, including border closures.
    • Pastoral production: Constraints related to migration will cause more damage to pastoral areas during the dry season, and will potentially cause conflicts, as livestock herds travel throughout the country and to the south, in search of pastures and water.
    • Supplying markets with basic grains: Sellers' stocks of maize, sorghum, millet, and rice should be above average following recent harvests and future lean season production. However, COVID-19 restrictions imposed by major producer countries and imports will probably continue to disrupt global supply chains and increase purchase costs, which will result in decreased amounts available in markets, and above-average prices for imported rice.
    • Basic food prices: Basic staple food prices throughout the country should be near average, and should follow typical seasonal patterns, but will increase beginning in December, due to the Christmas and New Year's holidays and stock depletion. In conflict regions, prices may begin rising earlier than normal and remain above the five-year average, because stocks will run out prematurely, due to below-average production. Due to the transportation system being progressively restored and to reduced fears of infection among the public, it is likely that the flow of locally grown foods, coming from rural areas and going to cities, will continue to improve and will return to normal even if the pandemic persists.
    • Market operations in conflict regions: Market and trade activities in the primary livestock and subsistence crop markets in the Far North, Northwest and Southwest regions will remain constrained by ongoing insecurity and conflicts, with an expected reduction in the number of sellers and their offerings, and in market demand as compared to normal.
    • Agricultural revenues: Agricultural revenues should improve during the upcoming months, because households will be selling their recent harvests. However, as stocks are generally exhausted beginning in January, poor households will have to find or step up alternative income-generating activities, such as small businesses and non-agricultural work. In conflict regions, income from the sale of agricultural products will remain below average, because stocks are expected to run out beginning in October due to below-average harvests during the current season.  Due to the economic slowdown caused by measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, commercial activity will continue to be slow, with fewer job prospects and labor demands in urban centers.
    • Conflicts and insecurity: Conflicts in the Northwest and Southwest and the insecurity caused by Boko Haram in the Far North are expected to continue throughout the projection period. Population displacements and flows of refugees are projected to continue and intensify in the Northwest and Southwest regions, if the conflict continues following regional elections in December, and/or during other national holidays.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    Last season's production was average in most of the country, so most poor households will consume their own harvests between October 2020 and January/February 2021. For households in southern Cameroon, stocks from the most recent harvest should follow typical seasonal levels, with the lowest levels expected during the lean season, from March to May 2021. Prices are expected to increase when market offerings fall. Poor households throughout Cameroon should continue to experience Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) throughout the projection period. Poor households in Yaoundé et Douala that have been the most affected by lost income due to the COVID-19 restrictions will begin seeing the results of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity in March 2021, because prices follow seasonal increases and will remain above average.
    Four consecutive years of below-average production and the loss of subsistence methods will continue to negatively impact poor households in the Northwest and Southwest regions affected by the conflict and by COVID-19. This will cause their food situation to deteriorate sooner than usual. As recent harvests continue to be exhausted earlier than usual, prices should still rise above average. Between now and November, the majority of poor households in the Northwest and Southwest will be confronted with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situations until May 2021. Additionally, regions housing displaced persons from the Northwest and Southwest regions (Bamboutous and Menoua departments in the West region) will probably be exposed to Stressed food insecurity situations (IPC Phase 2) beginning in November 2020.
    In the Far North, where production is estimated to be average, ongoing harvests of rainfed crops and off-season crops that will begin in March 2021 should improve food security conditions for poor households, and should strengthen food insecurity at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels between October 2020 and May 2021, except in Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanga, and Logone-et-Chari, which are subject to frequent Boko Haram attacks, along with May Danay, which experiences intense flooding; these areas might experience acute food insecurity at the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) level. Food aid allows refugees in the Minawao camp to remain in a Stressed food insecurity situation (IPC Phase 2).

    Refugees in camps/improved areas and those living in host communities in the East, Adamawa, and Far North will continue facing Stressed food insecurity situations (IPC Phase 2) throughout the projection period, due to difficulty in accessing fields and micro-loans. However, refugee households working in livestock raising, agricultural production, and small business, and who are partially or totally self-sufficient, have good food security conditions.

    Events that could change the scenario

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



    Impact on food security conditions


    A second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

    The government may reintroduce or tighten quarantine measures that slow down the economy and the informal sector even more. A reduction in remittances from the Cameroon diaspora living in countries that are also experiencing a second wave.

    Increased food aid to poor households affected by COVID-19

    May improve food access for communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically displaced persons and refugees in urban areas.

    Border openings

    Border reopenings will facilitate the flow of goods, including food products, and will strengthen cross-border trade. This will increase the opportunities for subsistence methods for poor households.

    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


    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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