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Rising food prices exacerbate food access concerns for poor households before the lean season arrives

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Cameroon
  • October 2023 - May 2024
Rising food prices exacerbate food access concerns for poor households before the lean season arrives

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Area of Concern: River Logone Flood Plain Livelihood Zone (CM01) of the Far North region (Figure 5)
  • Seasonal Calendar for a typical year in the Far North region
  • Area of Concern: Western Highlands livelihood zone (CM09) of Northwest and Southwest Regions (Figure 7)
  • Key Messages
    • In the Northwest and Southwest regions, ongoing area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the scenario period, with the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected to increase through the peak of the lean season in May/June. Recent conflict intensifications in September and October further disrupted sources of food and income, with households unable to safely leave their homes for multiple weeks. Many households in these regions are expected to depend on markets earlier and for longer due to the rapid depletion of household stocks. As the lean season approaches, increasing and above-average staple food prices will severely limit access to food for many, leading to more significant gaps in food consumption and negative coping strategies such as a reduction in meal frequency and an increased reliance on debt. Due to deteriorated livelihoods, the worst-affected households are expected to resort to selling any remaining productive assets or begging to get cash, and a small portion of the population is likely facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.
    • Area-level outcomes in the Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Tsanaga divisions of the Far North have improved from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2), supported by improved household access to own-produced sorghum, maize, and legumes during ongoing dry harvesting activities. However, due to insecurity, crops and livestock production is below average, resulting in low household-level food availability and income. Many households are resorting 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. Some refugees and people who have been displaced by conflicts and floods have reported not being able to grow any food or access humanitarian food assistance. As a result, they are likely to continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, and a small proportion are likely to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.
    • Stressed (IPC Phase 2) area-level outcomes are expected to persist in Mbere (Adamawa) and Kadey and Lom et Djerem (East) divisions, where a considerable number of refugees from the Central African Republic is putting pressure on local market supplies and resources. Increased competition over natural resources, including land for cultivation, grazing land, and income-earning opportunities, will maintain incomes below typical levels, further restraining household purchasing power. As staple food prices seasonally rise during the outlook period and stay above average due to nationally increased fuel and transportation costs, some worst-off households will be unable to mitigate their consumption gaps and likely experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.
    • It is expected that Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will persist throughout the scenario period in the urban areas of Yaoundé and Douala. Poor urban households mostly rely on food purchases at markets to meet their consumption needs. Due to higher prices of food staples and essential non-food items, they will continue struggling to meet their minimum daily calorie requirements. As a result, they have been forced to purchase less preferred or less expensive foods and reduce their meal portions.
    • In areas unaffected by conflict or insecurity, food security at the area level is expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) until May 2024. Throughout the scenario period, households in these areas will continue to engage in typical livelihood activities and maintain near-normal food consumption levels without resorting to unsustainable strategies to access food or income. The average levels of own production during the 2023/2024 season are expected to support food access, while income obtained from crop sales and agricultural labor will facilitate the purchase of imported staples and basic non-food items. The ongoing strong El Niño is not expected to significantly impact acute food insecurity across the country based on historical rainfall trends during El Niño events in Cameroon.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Conflict and insecurity: Cameroon faces two major conflicts: fighting between the Anglophone Separatists and government forces in the Northwest and Southwest regions and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) insurgency against government forces in the Far North region. These ongoing conflicts have caused significant disruptions to livelihood activities, trade flows, market access, and market functioning. As a result, affected populations face below-average access to food and income, and staple food prices have risen significantly due to decreased production and increased transportation costs. The loss of productive assets due to years of conflict undermines many households’ capacity to cope with shocks and recover their livelihoods.

    From January through August 2023, the intensity of fighting between Anglophone separatists and government forces in the Northwest and Southwest regions declined year-on-year, with sporadic increases in intensity. ACLED reported some 69 conflict events and 118 associated fatalities during this period, representing a 59 percent decrease in incidents and a 64 percent decrease in fatalities compared to the same period in 2022. These levels are significantly below the peak conflict intensity observed in late 2021. The recent clashes have most impacted the divisions of Mezam, Boyo, Ngoketunjia, Menchum, and Donga Mantung in the Northwest and Ndian and Meme in the Southwest. Separatists continued to target government forces and civilians with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Conflict levels temporarily intensified during a two-week lockdown imposed by Separatists who sought to force the population to boycott schools reopening and Unification Day commemorations in September and October. The lockdown included a ban on movements, school attendance, and agricultural, commercial, and social activities across both regions, including markets' closure. There was a notable increase in attacks and violence against people defying the lockdown, such as teachers, bike riders, and students. Some households missed out on crucial food assistance due to interruptions in humanitarian access.

    In the Far North, ISWAP has continued carrying out violent attacks, specifically in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions. These attacks also involve incursions into villages, looting, abductions, and forced displacements. In the first eight months of 2023, ACLED reported 154 attacks on civilians (a 69 percent year-on-year increase), resulting in 148 civilian fatalities (a five percent year-on-year increase). During this period, 101 reported clashes between ISWAP and security forces resulted in 92 fatalities. This marks a 46 percent increase from the same period during the previous year but a 30 percent decrease in deaths. The districts of Kolofata and Mora in Mayo Sava and the districts of Mayo Moskota and Koza in Mayo Tsanaga have been the most targeted by the recent conflict. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that between July and September 2023, nearly 3,200 people were forced to flee insurgent attacks and relocate to other areas within the Mokolo district.

    Despite seasonal declines in conflict levels, fighting between rebel groups and the government forces in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) continues to displace thousands of refugees into Cameroon. UNHCR reports that over 352,000 CAR refugees now reside in Cameroon, specifically in the divisions of Lom et Djerem (East region), Kadey (East), Mayo-Rey (North region), and Mbere (Adamawa region). Although some refugee households, particularly those integrated into the community, engage in near-normal livelihood activities, most still face challenges due to limited financial and social resources. These challenges arise from competition with the host population over land and labor opportunities. 

    Rainfall performance: The August-October rainfall is important for off-season production, especially in the bimodal East, Center, and South regions. While most cropping areas in the southern zones experienced below-average cumulative rainfall between August and September compared to the long-term average (1991-2020), the distribution was favorable for the growth and development of off-season rice, maize, and garden crops. Isolated areas of northern Cameroon experienced rainfall deficits and dry spells since June, causing maize and sorghum to wilt and need to be replanted in July. Field information shows that several maize and sorghum fields failed to flower and produce grain in several localities in the Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava divisions due to rainfall deficits and dry spells. The ongoing strong El Niño conditions have not significantly impacted the 2023/24 season, and Cameroon has historically not experienced significant rainfall anomalies during El Niño years. 

    Staple crop production: Currently, sorghum, maize, rice, and legumes are being harvested in the northern zone, while in the southern zone, cassava, cocoyam, and plantain harvesting continue until December. Garden crops, off-season maize, and rice are also approaching maturity in the south zone. Although no assessments had been done as of the writing of this report, FEWS NET estimates an overall average national production with localized deficits due to significantly reduced area planted in conflict zones and high costs of agricultural inputs. Due to years of conflict and insecurity, households in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions face challenges accessing fields, including the loss of farmland and abandonment. Additionally, prices for key fertilizers have remained consistently high across Cameroon, though price increases have eased during the second half of 2023 due to significant global declines in fertilizer prices. In conflict-affected areas, input supplies have been further limited by reduced market access and functioning, resulting in higher prices than in the rest of the country.

    Cash crop production: Harvesting of cocoa and coffee is underway in the southern zone until the end of the season in December. Several small-scale farmers have already reported lower harvests due to decreased usage of fungicides and fertilizers. Furthermore, the abandonment of farms due to security issues in the Northwest and Southwest regions has reduced national production levels. Continued insecurity and household displacements have hindered government efforts to rehabilitate coffee and cocoa production in conflict regions.

    Labor demand: As the peak season for local agricultural labor demand for harvesting and off-season cultivation draws to a close in the southern zone, many poor households have begun increasing their involvement in typical self-employment, such as petty trading, firewood and charcoal sales, stone cracking, and bricklaying. In contrast, the northern region is experiencing a seasonal increase in local agricultural labor demand due to harvesting and irrigated cultivation. However, daily wages from harvesting and off-season activities have remained lower than usual in rural areas affected by conflict, including the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North regions, as wealthier employers are facing decreased financial resources due to years of reduced production. Lower daily wages in the Far North, East, and Adamawa regions also result from high competition for labor work from refugees and displaced persons in host communities. For example, many hirers in conflict-affected areas in the Far North region are now offering 0.8-1.12 USD/person/day (500-700 FCFA) for tilling and planting labor, down from the pre-conflict rate of 1.6-2.41 USD/person/day (1000-1500 FCFA), though similar to last year. The northern zone is experiencing a surge in labor migration for cereal harvests and off-season sorghum and rice cultivation. Meanwhile, casual agricultural wage labor opportunities for cocoa and coffee harvesting are available in the Southwest, West, South, and Littoral regions. However, migration of workers within the region is limited due to security issues and costly transportation. In urban areas, the availability of non-agricultural casual labor is near average, with daily wages for construction workers and cargo handlers in Yaoundé and Douala staying higher than pre-pandemic rates. However, despite increases, wages in urban areas have not kept pace with increased food and transport costs. 

    Pastoral situation:  Recent rainfall has improved pasture conditions in Cameroon, increasing profits for pastoral households selling livestock and milk products. However, the high cost of feed supplements and veterinary products continues to constrain profit margins. In September, data collected by FEWS NET in selected markets across the country shows that cotton cake prices have risen 18-23 percent since last year, and wheat bran prices have almost doubled. Access to these livestock feeds is further reduced in areas affected by insecurity and conflict, resulting in relatively poorer livestock body conditions. Livestock prices remain above average in most markets, exacerbated by rising input prices and transportation costs. After increasing from May to July due to high seasonal demand associated with Ramadan, prices of sheep and goats have remained overall stable through September in most city markets. During the lean season, prices dropped slightly in rural areas of the northern zone due to increased seasonal supplies as poor households sold their animals to cover abnormally high food prices. Seasonal movement of local and regional nomadic groups between the northern and southern grazing lands continues to be restricted by widespread insecurity, cattle theft, and seizure by armed groups. Several herds from neighboring countries (Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria) are reportedly blocked in Cameroon, unable to return to their original settlements due to insecurity. Many of these herds are concentrated in atypical locations across the northern zone, contributing to an increased risk of farmer-herder conflicts and reprisals due to increased competition over natural resources. 

    Figure 1

    Imported rice price trends in selected markets
    Shows various rice prices over time in Yaoundé, Douala, Bamenda, and Kumba markets.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Inflation and commodity prices:  According to the National Institute of Statistics (INS), Cameroon's inflation rate rose to an average of 7.8 percent by August 2023, compared to 6.3 percent in August 2022. This rate exceeds the three percent threshold set by the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). Despite the government's efforts to control inflationary pressures, including a ban on grain exports since December 2021, food prices increased by an average of 13.3 percent during the same period and continue to be the main driver of high inflation in Cameroon. Prices of imported food commodities such as rice, wheat, and edible oil continued to rise throughout the country, surpassing the previous year's and even the five-year average. This is because international imports into the country have been reduced due to elevated global price trends and shipping costs. Additionally, the end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and recent rice export restrictions in India have likely also impacted the availability of these products.

    Cameroon relies primarily on India, Thailand, and China for over 70 percent of its rice supply. However, imported rice prices have steadily risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 due to its impact on global commodity and fuel prices. As of September 2023, rice prices in Cameroon were, on average, 7 percent higher than last year and over 35 percent higher than in 2020. Urban centers such as Yaoundé and Douala experienced higher price trends than rural reference markets, likely because of higher demand for purchased foods by urban households. In September 2023, the price of imported rice in Yaoundé and Douala was 28 percent and 33 percent higher than the average price in 2020 and the previous five years, between 600-650 FCFA per kilogram (Figure 1).

    Prices of locally harvested cereals such as maize, sorghum, and millet remain high and above average in all markets monitored by FEWS NET, primarily driven by limited supply resulting from reduced production in conflict-affected areas, disrupted trade flows, and soaring transport costs. Households are also depending on markets earlier and for longer due to the rapid depletion of household stocks. In September, prices of maize in Buea, Bamenda, and Kumba were 10-19 percent higher than last year and significantly above the five-year average. In the Far North region, prices of sorghum and maize dramatically increased during the second and third quarters, including an atypical increase during the lean season from July to August. Due to the availability of newly harvested crops, prices began declining seasonally from September/October in most northern markets. Still, prices remained substantially above both the last year and the five-year averages across most of the Far North region. As of September, prices of sorghum and maize in Maroua, Mora, Kaele, and Yagoua markets were more than 50 percent higher than last year and close to 70 percent higher than the previous five-year average.

    Figure 2

    Goat to red sorghum terms of trade for the Far North region
    Shows evolution of goat to sorghum terms of trade over time in Maroua, Kaele, Mokolo, and Yagoua markets.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Pastoral households, who typically sell livestock to buy cereal, face unfavorable Terms of Trade (ToT) due to the unusually high prices of cereals. For instance, in the last quarter (June to August 2023), the amount of sorghum that could be purchased with a goat in the Far North decreased respectively by 15-39 percent and approximately 20 percent compared to the same period last year and the five-year average (Figure 2).

    Humanitarian Food assistance: Emergency food assistance continues to be provided to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees, and other affected persons through in-kind distributions and cash-based transfers. Specialized nutritious food is distributed to children between 6 and 23 months through targeted nutrition programs. The Northwest/Southwest Food Security Cluster reports that an average of 303,000 people in the NW and SW regions have been targeted for monthly distributions since January 2023, with rations covering 30 to 50 percent of daily kilocalorie needs. In August, the WFP reached all seven administrative divisions of the Northwest Region for the first time since February 2023. However, challenging weather and road conditions caused delays in some distribution sites. However, no distribution was carried out in the Southwest Region due to delays in completing the targeting exercise (WFP).  

    WFP is facing challenges in meeting its monthly targets due to funding limitations. Livelihood support and nutrition assistance remain critically underfunded. Additionally, insecurity and poor roads restrict access to areas in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest regions. The two-week lockdown imposed by Separatists in September to protest school resumption further limited humanitarian access. Recent statistics on food distribution in the Far North, East, Adamawa, and North regions are unavailable to FEWS NET. FEWS NET analysis suggests that although the food deliveries are reducing the food consumption gaps for some beneficiaries, the level of assistance provided is unlikely to reach 25 percent of the total population at the divisional or regional level.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes are ongoing in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Persistent conflict continues to limit poor households' access to food and income by restricting their participation in livelihood activities and severely impacting trade and market functioning. Recent conflict intensifications further disrupted sources of food and income, with households unable to safely leave their homes for multiple weeks. Given below-average production, household stocks are already running out, and households must buy most of their food. However, high market prices and low purchasing power make it difficult for them to afford enough food. Some households are switching to cheaper legumes like beans, soybeans, and groundnuts instead of meat and fish, while others are forced to reduce the frequency and portion sizes of their meals. Other households, unable to sell enough of their own-produced crops to repay existing debts incurred during the last several years of conflict, are becoming further entrenched in debt to meet their essential food and non-food needs. While there is ongoing humanitarian assistance in these regions, it covers less than 25 percent of the population and is insufficient to improve the area-level classification.

    Most households in the Far North region are experiencing seasonal increases in access to food from their own production and income from crop sales during dry harvesting activities, supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, higher-than-usual food prices limit access to imported foods such as rice, wheat flour, and vegetable oils. Meanwhile, in areas affected by conflict and insecurity, namely the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, outcomes have also improved but remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Many conflict-affected households can access minimally adequate food consumption but must resort to negative coping strategies to afford essential non-food expenditures. Declines in livestock and crop production due to protracted insecurity and conflict have led to below-average household food availability and income. Worst-off refugees and displaced persons have experienced multiple displacements due to conflict and flooding, limiting their capacities to rebuild their livelihoods. Despite ongoing harvests, many of these households had little to no production and are expected to continue facing wide food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. A small proportion of these households are likely facing more severe food consumption gaps and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.

    Many poor households residing in Mbere (Adamawa) and Kadey and Lom et Djerem (East) divisions are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. This is primarily due to the significant number of refugees from the Central African Republic who reside in these areas, which has increased the demand and price of staple foods. Moreover, there is high competition for resources, including land for cultivation, firewood for cooking, and limited income-earning opportunities. Additionally, most refugees lack access to land for cultivating crops. Prices of food and essential non-food items have risen further due to the nationwide increases in fuel and transportation costs, putting further financial stress on refugee and host-population households. The worst-affected households are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Many households in areas unaffected by conflict or insecurity have sufficient access to their own-harvested staple foods, such as maize, beans, groundnuts, roots, and tubers, which were harvested between July and September. The income from crop sales and agricultural labor facilitates household purchases of imported staples and basic non-food items. Although prices for food and essential non-food items remain higher than average, urban households relying on markets are benefitting from seasonal price declines of newly harvested foods. This has allowed many households to maintain near-normal food consumption levels without engaging in atypical and unsustainable strategies to access food and income. Most parts of the country unaffected by conflict or insecurity have Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are assessed in Yaoundé and Douala, where relatively higher price levels and urban households’ reliance on purchased foods means they face greater difficulty affording minimally sufficient amounts of food. Some households in these cities are still recovering from the pandemic-related income setbacks, and wage increases have not kept pace with food price increases. Many can only meet their basic food needs by purchasing less preferred or less expensive foods and reducing their meal portions. 

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario from October 2023 to May 2023 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Clashes between government forces and separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest regions are expected to persist during the scenario period as prospects of peace talks between involved actors remain slim. The intensity of fighting will remain similar to levels observed during the same period in 2022 and 2023. As observed in previous years, fighting is likely to escalate during the dry season, which begins around mid-November to mid-March due to the improved mobility of armed groups, as roads are more accessible. 
    • The ISWAP will continue operation in the Far North region, primarily in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions, with conflict levels expected to stay below 2021 and 2022 levels given ISWAP’s focus on military targets as opposed to mass-casualty attacks against civilian populations. However, ISWAP’s levying of taxes on territories under their control will likely result in recurrent but small-scale violence against civilians, as they will continue to use violence to enforce collection. Seasonally, the number of attacks perpetrated by ISWAP and associated fatalities will likely increase during the dry season (October to April), driven by better road conditions for conducting operations. 
    • The El Niño event, predicted to peak in 2023 and then dissipate by mid-2024, is not expected to cause any significant impact on acute food insecurity in the country. Based on historical trends, El Niño years are not associated with rainfall anomalies in Cameroon. Forecasts by FEWS NET’s science partners (USGS, NOAA, and UCSB CHC) indicate that the rainy season in both unimodal and bimodal areas of the country's southern zone will begin in March, as anticipated. This should lead to a typical start for the 2024 cropping season. However, the NOAA-CPC seasonal forecast for February to April 2024 projects erratic rainfall conditions at the beginning of the season in the northwestern, southern, and central parts of the country, which will likely result in dry spells that all affect the planting of major crops.
    • Prices of fertilizers and quality seeds are expected to remain high and continue limiting access for many poor households during the 2024 cropping season. Although the government has implemented a fertilizer subsidy program, it will likely primarily benefit better-off farmers and may not provide sufficient support for poorer households due to low subsidy amounts. Consequently, despite the subsidy, many poor households will continue struggling to afford fertilizers given elevated market prices. 
    • Off-season maize and legume crops and irrigated rice will be harvested in November and December in the southern zone. Overall, rice production is expected to be average nationally and similar to last year, with localized deficits in the Northwest and Southwest regions due to decreased access to rice fields. In the northern zone, recession and off-season cropping, primarily along floodplains between January and February 2024, is expected to be normal. The flooding of the Logone floodplains between August and December 2023 is expected to drive ample water availability, pasture availability, and fishing activities. However, fishing activities along the Logone Canal will be limited due to widespread insecurity and potential intercommunal clashes and reprisals.

    Figure 3

    Observed and projected price prices of red sorghum in Mokolo, Cameroon, in 2023 compared to last year and the five-year average
    Shows projected changes in red sorghum prices 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

    Figure 4

    Observed and projected price of yellow maize in Maroua, Cameroon, in 2023 compared to last year and the five-year average
    Shows projected changes in maize prices 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, Far North

    • Cereal production for the 2023 main season in the northern zone is expected to be close to average overall, given generally favorable July-August rainfall -, with harvests expected in October and November. Sorghum and maize production is expected to be average across the zone but below average in Mayo Tsanaga, Mayo Sava, and Logone et Chari, where there has been a substantial decrease in the planted areas due to persisting conflict and insecurity.
    • Despite an estimated average national production during the 2023-2024 season, prices of locally produced staple cereals across the country are anticipated to remain higher than the previous five-year average, supported by production declines in conflict-affected areas, increased cost of agricultural inputs and transportation, as well as persisting high export demand from neighboring countries. In the southern zone, prices are expected to follow seasonal patterns and rise with increasing demand during end-of-year festivities and the lean season until May/June 2024.
    • Except in conflict areas, most markets in the northern zone are expected to be well-supplied with dried grains of sorghum, maize, and cowpea between October and December, thanks to ongoing harvests. Seasonal price declines for locally produced foods are likely in the northern zone during this period, given high market supplies and that households can consume their own stocks.
    • Harvesting of maize and rice during the off-season in November/December in the southern zone and March/April in the northern zones will enhance household and market stocks. This is expected to result in a slight decrease in market prices during the harvesting months, especially in areas with surplus production.
    • Based on reference markets of Mokolo and Maroua, the prices of maize and sorghum grains in the Far North region are projected to remain unusually high despite an anticipated average level of regional production. Atypically high costs are associated with anticipations of below-average production in areas affected by conflict and increase in informal exports to Nigeria, which is expected to result in below-average availabilities at both the market and household levels.
    • FEWS NET's price projections show that red sorghum prices in Mokolo during the scenario period will trend substantially above last year and the five-year averages (Figure 3). Additionally, maize prices in Maroua are projected to be moderately higher than last year and significantly above the five-year average (Figure 4). Generally, prices will follow the seasonal trend, decreasing around harvesting in October and November, but are projected to rise as dry harvest ends in November. In December, prices will continue to increase through May as stocks start dwindling at the household level, increasing market demand. 
    • National import volumes of imported food commodities such as rice, wheat flour, and vegetable oil are expected to remain below average due to above-average global price trends and elevated shipping costs. As a result, prices are projected to stay generally above average or increase slightly. Cameroon relies on India for more than a third of its rice, and the rice export restriction recently imposed by India is projected to strain national rice supplies further. While overall global production is expected to improve compared to last year (USDAAMISIGC), India’s export restriction will lead to decreased supplies on the international market and drive further price increases. Households in urban cities such as Yaoundé and Douala will likely face higher price increases due to higher urban household reliance on markets and demand for purchased food.
    • Persistently high fuel prices are expected to continue driving increases in transportation costs, which in turn will maintain high costs of agricultural inputs, food, and non-food commodities. The sharp rise in inflation in Nigeria due to fuel subsidy removal is expected to increase the demand for cereal exports from Cameroon, which are currently banned, and this will likely lead to illicit exports and drive up their prices when road conditions seasonally improve between November and December
    • In the southern zone, the demand for agricultural labor is expected to increase seasonally around January with the start of the main season and remain at seasonally high levels through May. In the northern zone, a seasonal increase in labor demand is anticipated from February to March due to off-season harvesting. Despite normal seasonal trends, labor demand is expected to remain lower than usual in areas affected by conflict due to below-normal cultivation levels.
    • Livestock prices are predicted to follow typical seasonal patterns but are expected to remain above average. This is due to a reduced supply from regions affected by conflict and increased expenses for feed supplements and transportation costs. Small ruminant prices are expected to rise seasonally from November to January in the northern zone as cereal availability at the household level increases, causing reduced sales. A slight price increase is likely during the March/April Ramadan celebrations. Conversely, prices in the southern zone are expected to decrease during the lean season from March to May, as more poor households sell their animals to earn income to cover the atypically high food prices. While this is expected to exert downward pressure on livestock prices, prices are still likely to remain high due to increased production costs and decreased supply.
    • The WFP and its partners plan to continue providing humanitarian food assistance to those in need during the scenario period. Details regarding distribution plans beyond October are unavailable. Populations of the highest concern, such as IDPs, returnees, refugees, and the host populations, will continue to be prioritized for food assistance. However, recent trends indicate that food assistance levels have decreased due to funding limitations. OCHA reports that only 19.2 percent of the required funds for the humanitarian response in Cameroon had been received by mid-2023. Funding and access limitations are expected to keep coverage below 25 percent of the local population.
    • Between October and December 2023, the nutritional status of vulnerable people in the northern zone is expected to improve due to increased availability of sorghum, maize, cowpea, groundnut, and vegetables. Diarrhea, malaria, and cholera prevalence are expected to stay high till the end of the rainy season in November in the northern zone, which could worsen nutrition outcomes. In the southern zone, poor households may face wider food consumption gaps during the lean season from March to May, leading to increased malnutrition rates, particularly among refugees and displaced persons who cannot afford basic grains at high prices. 

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    In the Northwest and Southwest regions, many poor households are expected to increase their market purchases of basic foods, with few households having produced enough to last through December. The increasing prices of staple foods are expected to continue severely limiting access to food, with more households needing to purchase food on credit or reduce meal frequency to mitigate their consumption gaps. Although income from agricultural labor is expected to increase seasonally from January to April 2024, supported by the start of the new cropping season, poor households will unlikely meet their minimum food and non-food consumption needs amidst above-average and seasonally rising food prices. Throughout the scenario period, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain widespread in the Northwest and Southwest regions, with food assistance needs likely highest at the peak of the lean season in May. A small percentage of worst-affected households subjected to the most severe movement restrictions and the least market access is expected to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.

    In the Far North, dry harvesting will continue until November. This is anticipated to bolster household food stocks for several months and provide in-kind wages and income from crop sales. Area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the conflict-affected Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions through December. However, some households residing in the most insecure areas who did not cultivate or consume their meager green harvests are likely to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. The most vulnerable households are likely to adopt severe negative coping strategies, such as begging and relocating to neighboring areas in search of food and income, as they face a cash shortage amidst high prices. Once household stocks are prematurely exhausted at the end of January, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through the rest of the scenario period in the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-et-Chari divisions. With below-average income from crop sales and limited alternative income-earning opportunities, poor households are not expected to be able to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs, especially with atypically high staple food prices. Although households will try to mitigate food consumption gaps by selling assets, most poor households have limited remaining productive assets and livestock to sell after several consecutive years of conflict and insecurity, below-average production, and repeated displacements.

    In Mbere (Adamawa), Kadey, and Lom et Djerem (East), area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected, with the worst-off households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the scenario. The presence of many refugees from the Central African Republic, many of whom have limited access to land for crop cultivation, has led to a high demand for and increased prices of purchased foods even in the post-harvest period. Moreover, high fuel and transportation costs have put additional pressure on the prices of food and essential non-food items, leading to further stress on refugee and host-population households.

    During the scenario period, households in areas without conflict are expected to have average access to food and income and engage in near-normal livelihood activities. In the southern zone, the food stocks from the recent harvests are estimated to last at least until March of next year and will be supplemented by average off-season production between November and January. In the northern zone, most households unaffected by conflict will have stocks until May, in addition to off-season harvests in February and March. Despite above-average food prices, it is projected that many households will be able to meet their minimum essential food and non-food needs throughout the projection period without resorting to unsustainable coping measures. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to continue throughout the scenario period. However, in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé, where many poor households rely primarily on food purchases, it is likely that increasing prices, which are already above average, will continue to challenge households’ abilities to afford their essential non-food needs. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the scenario period. Some urban poor households are expected to resort to consumption-based coping strategies, such as consuming less nutritious and less preferred meals and reducing the number of meals they eat when prices peak during the lean season between March and May.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes

     

    National

     

    Another increase in pump prices of fuels such as diesel and premium petrol and an increase in cooking gas and kerosene as the government considers gradually phasing out fuel subsidies in the medium termContinued increases in transportation expenses and food commodity prices would likely place additional constraints on food access, particularly for households who purchase a large proportion of their food. These households may already face challenges affording their minimum food and non-food needs. As a result, they would be forced to choose between buying food and other non-food essentials or resort to negative coping strategies. This would likely increase the number of households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes nationwide.

    Far North region

     

    Spillover of the Sudan conflict to neighboring ChadThis could exacerbate instability in Chad, resulting in an additional influx of refugees into the northern zone of Cameroon. Increased competition over resources and an increase in the number of households needing humanitarian assistance would be likely. Prices of essential staple items would likely increase because of increased demand. Increased numbers of households would likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes or worse between January and May 2024.
    Northwest and Southwest regionsPeace talks between the parties involved in the Anglophone CrisisThis could lead to the uplifting of lingering border restrictions and restore cross-border trade and labor migration to near-average levels. Prices of essential commodities would likely fall, improving food access for poor households. This could also end regular ghost towns and lockdowns, allowing households to work a more typical schedule. As markets reopen, access to income-generating opportunities would improve. There would unlikely be sufficient improvements in food security outcomes to improve the phase classification until the next cropping season, which is outside the scenario period. 

    Area of Concern: River Logone Flood Plain Livelihood Zone (CM01) of the Far North region (Figure 5)

    Figure 5

    Area of concern reference map: CM01 livelihood zone of Far North region
    Area shaded in purple is the CM01 livelihood zone in the Far North region of Cameroon

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current Situation

    While most areas received average to slightly above-average rainfall from June to August, the Blangoua, Fotokol, Darak, Makari, and Goulfrey districts experienced moderate to severe deficits that hindered the growth of crops and pastures. In August, flooding along the Logone and Chari rivers submerged upland rice fields in affected areas. Although river levels are similar to last year, the impact of this year's floods has been relatively minor.

    Harvesting of sorghum, cowpea, maize, and groundnut began in some areas of the zone in late September. Dry harvesting has not started in Blangoua, Fotokol, Darak, Makari, and Goulfrey districts. This is because planting in these areas was delayed, and some fields had to be replanted due to dry spells. In these districts, many households are harvesting immature or very green grains for food. This year's harvest is expected to be below average, though similar to last year, due to high input prices and abandonment of fields. Low rainfall and dry spells have also negatively affected cereal yields in the aforementioned districts, resulting in total losses in some maize fields. Despite the government's efforts to offer subsidized fertilizers at half the market price, they remain unaffordable for many poor households, and deliveries have been limited by insecurity and poor road conditions.

    Livestock in the zone are benefiting from improved pastures and water supplies due to ample rainfall in August and early September. However, areas with insufficient rainfall face below-average vegetation greenness, as confirmed by reports from key informants and field monitoring.

    Figure 6

    Market functioning and trade flow activity in the Lake Chad basin as of September 2023
    Map important markets and trade routes in the Lake Chad Basin region. Circles and lines in green highlight areas with normal activity. Other colors represent various degrees of market disruptions.

    Source: FEWS NET

    In the third week of September, local markets began selling newly harvested sorghum and maize, but supplies are below average due to poor harvests. Despite the government's grain export ban, significant unofficial exportation continues, with Nigerian traders buying directly from farms. High transportation costs and security issues further reduce market supplies. By the following week, red sorghum and groundnut prices had dropped by 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively, compared to August. This decline was due to seasonal supply increases, albeit below average levels. However, reduced supplies are leading to unusually high prices, especially for maize, which has not seen a decrease in price due to poorer harvests caused by rainfall deficits. Cowpea prices increased by 16 percent between August and September, and sorghum prices are 14 percent higher than last year. Meanwhile, maize and locally produced rice prices have surged by 39 percent and 26 percent compared to last year, respectively, exceeding 50 percent above the five-year average before the crisis. Market access in the zone remains restricted by frequent, unpredictable attacks by Islamist groups and the threat of kidnappings and theft. This has moderately affected the functionality of main food and livestock markets, resulting in reduced trade flows and fewer traders. While households can still afford most food items, there is a reduced availability of commodities from Nigeria and the southern zone. 

    Between July and September, the prices for small ruminants in the local market dropped by around 15 percent due to seasonally increased supplies, as poor households sold off their animals to earn income to cover atypically high food prices. Many households also sold their animals to get cash for educational expenses at the start of the school year. The livestock supply in the area has decreased significantly compared to normal. Many households have sold their animals or lost some to cattle rustlers. Despite the low supply, prices have remained lower than the average due to a lack of buyers coming to the area out of fear of being attacked by armed groups.

    Agricultural labor opportunities in the zone are below normal due to reduced area planted and poor harvests, which affect middle and better-off households' hiring capacity. Tilling and planting labor wages range from 0.8 to 1.12 USD per person per day, far lower than 1.6 to 2.41 USD per person paid before the insurgency. Households displaced by conflict compete for jobs with locals, often accepting lower wages out of desperation. Non-agricultural labor opportunities are available, though returns to these activities are low. Young people work in sand digging and stone cracking, while wealthier households pay women displaced from rural areas to fetch water. Wild food gathering and sales have seasonally increased during the rainy season. 

    The zone has seen a significant increase in displaced persons in recent years, primarily due to ongoing attacks, conflicts between communities, and flooding. In August, further attacks in Fotokol, Goulfey, Darak, Blangoua, and Waza resulted in thousands of additional displacements. Many displaced households live in host communities and have limited access to food and essential non-food commodities. Many are hesitant to return to their homes, given the loss of their properties, livestock, and food stocks, and the ongoing insecurity presents challenges to rebuilding their livelihoods.

    According to WFP’s country brief for August 2023, Emergency food assistance is ongoing amongst refugees, IDPs, returnees, and the host populations in the zone through in-kind and cash-based transfer distributions. Children aged 6- 23 months are also targeted for nutrition interventions, including specialized nutritious food distributions. Additionally, WFP’s school meals initiative is underway in the zone.


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

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions

    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Although no end-of-season assessment has been conducted in the zone, FEWS NET anticipates that reduced surface area planted and low access to farm input will produce less than 60 percent of the average crop production. A further reduction in sorghum and maize harvests is expected in cropping areas significantly affected by the dry spells of June and July and fall armyworm infestations, specifically in the districts of Blangoua, Fotokol, Darak, Makari, and Goulfrey. Dry harvesting in these areas will likely be delayed until November, mainly on replanted fields.
    • Due to decreased production, many poor households in the zone are expected to exhaust their harvested resources by January, three to four months earlier than in a conflict-free year.  In areas where more severe conflict levels and inadequate rainfall deficits have led to meager harvests, supplies are unlikely to last beyond December.
    • Freshly harvested cereals and legumes will be supplied to local markets in the zone from October to November but will stay below average due to reduced production and insecurity. Although improved household and market supplies are expected to lead to marginal seasonal declines in prices of harvested products, they are likely to remain significantly higher than last year's and the five-year average due to below-average production. As stocks run out early, prices are expected to rise again in December, two to three months earlier than usual, and stay seasonally high until May.
    • Throughout the scenario period, cereal prices are expected to rise seasonally and remain abnormally high, given low harvest prospects and persistently high export demand from northeastern Nigeria. It is unlikely that sorghum and maize prices will decrease during March and April off-season harvesting due to anticipated below-average production in the area.
    • Livestock prices are predicted to adhere to seasonal patterns but remain higher than in 2023 due to increased transportation expenses. The rising cost of cereals is expected to maintain declining livestock-to-cereals terms of trade for many pastoral households in the zone through May 2024, further reducing their purchasing power, which is already affected by several years of conflict.
    • The nutritional status of vulnerable persons in the zone will likely improve from October to November due to improved food access with new harvests and a wider range of food options. A seasonal decrease in disease prevalence, particularly waterborne and malaria, is expected during the dry season from November to April 2024. Two months after the harvest in December, the level of acute malnutrition among refugee/IDP households is anticipated to remain at similar levels as reported in December 2022 amongst IDPs, refugees, and host families in the Far North (SMART/SENS). These prevalences are within the thresholds of 8.5-10.1 percent. This trend of moderate and high acute malnutrition prevalence is expected to persist throughout May 2024 as high market reliance, low purchasing power, and elevated food prices further limit access to food, increasing the prevalence of acute malnutrition.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From November 2023 to December 2024, poor households in the zone will meet their minimum food needs by consuming their own produced crops. This will be made possible by the main harvest between October and November, which is also expected to lead to slight seasonal declines in food prices and increased casual agricultural labor opportunities through December. However, many households will still struggle to access essential non-food items due to below-average incomes from crop sales and labor. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist from November through December. Very poor households in areas with the most intense conflict will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to limited production and significantly reduced incomes. 

    From January to May 2024, as food reserves are prematurely exhausted, households are expected to meet their minimum food needs by purchasing food from local markets. Low purchasing power combined with atypically high prices will limit households’ abilities to purchase enough food to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs. As the year progresses, the consumption of wild foods is likely to increase to atypical levels and begin earlier to compensate for food shortages. The availability of these wild foods is expected to be average. To obtain the cash needed to afford the atypically high costs of cereals and other essential non-food products, many households are expected to typically increase the sale of small ruminants and intensify firewood/charcoal and handicrafts. Poor households’ involvement in fishing, traditionally reserved for middle-class households, is also expected to increase to atypical levels. Due to deteriorated livelihoods and eroded coping capacities, worst-affected households are expected to resort to negative coping strategies such as reducing meal portions and begging to mitigate their consumption gaps. Outcomes are projected to deteriorate from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from January through May. Emergency food assistance is planned to cover about 50 percent of daily energy needs, but less than 25 percent of the zone's population is expected to benefit.


    Area of Concern: Western Highlands livelihood zone (CM09) of Northwest and Southwest Regions (Figure 7)

    Figure 7

    Area of concern reference map: CM09 livelihood zone of NW and SW regions
    Area shaded in purple is the CM09 livelihood zone in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current Situation

    The 2023 main harvest in the zone occurred between July and September and was below the pre-conflict five-year average for the seventh consecutive year. According to MINADER and key informants, production is estimated to be around 30 to 40 percent below average due to significant reductions in the total surface area cultivated due to years of conflict and insecurity. Production is estimated to be similar to the last two years, where the conflict has been less severe and allowed for more cultivation, notably in some parts of Mezam, Donga Mantung, Bui, and Ngoketunjia divisions. However, in Menchum, Lebialem, and Momo divisions, there is an estimated further decline in production due to intensified separatist activities. Lebialem, in particular, remains one of the most insecure divisions and most challenging to access due to severely degraded road infrastructure. 

     Across the zone, separatists' levying of illegal taxes on farming households has become a widespread practice, further constraining many poor households from engaging in agricultural activities and constraining already narrow profit margins. In addition, household access to crop fields was limited by weekly "ghost town" days and sporadic lockdowns imposed by Separatists. While some households have started to adapt to weekly ghost-town days by temporarily relocating to their farms beforehand, they cannot adapt to sporadic lockdowns and spontaneous attacks. Off-season cultivation is underway across the zone, with rice, beans, maize, and vegetable crops growing well due to good soil moisture. However, insecurity limits access to the major plains where most production occurs, specifically Menchum, Ngoketunjia, and Mezam divisions. 

    Food delivery from neighboring regions and the seaport town of Douala to Bamenda, a key market in the zone, has been greatly reduced due to widespread insecurity. Access to several markets in the area is limited due to insecurity and poor road infrastructure during the rainy season. Some roads are only accessible by motorbike, so many people have been forced to use alternative, longer, and more expensive routes. In addition, most markets in the area were closed for more than half of September and during parts of October due to the lockdown imposed by separatists (Figure 8). Below-average production and poor market access have resulted in abnormally reduced supplies of freshly harvested produce, causing prices to remain significantly above typical seasonal levels. In September, the prices of white maize and beans in Bamenda were 22 and 11 percent higher than last year and between 50-70 percent above the five-year average. The prices of imported rice in this market have remained steady since last year but are still more than double the five-year average. Additionally, the prices of some harvested crops in certain local markets did not seasonally decrease as expected during the harvest season. During the post-harvest period between July and September, maize prices increased by 14 percent in Nkambe while remaining stable in Bamenda and Fundong.

    Figure 8

    Market functioning and access map in the NW and SW regions as of September 2023
    Map important markets and trade routes in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. Circles and lines represent various degrees of market disruptions with the darkest colors indicating the most severe disruptions.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Since July, the availability of seasonal agricultural labor opportunities has improved due to the start of harvesting and off-season activities. However, these opportunities are still below average because some better-off households cannot pay poor households for casual labor due to reduced incomes from multiple years of below-average production. Typical in-kind payment with grains has also decreased due to poor harvests. In general, the conflict in this zone has significantly damaged the business environment and resulted in a scarcity of non-agricultural casual labor opportunities. Some poor households, especially those receiving start-up business capital from WFP, have been selling poultry and eggs to boost incomes. While they have benefitted from higher poultry prices in most markets, poultry production remains limited by a scarcity of day-old chicks in all areas.

    Favorable rainfall during the 2023 season has improved water, pasture, and livestock conditions in the livestock areas of Donga Mantung, Menchum, and Bui Ngoketunija divisions. Currently, the livestock body conditions are fair to good, but poor access to veterinary services has impacted the body conditions in very insecure areas. Due to years of insecurity, local herd sizes remain significantly reduced. Moreover, arms groups continue to seize livestock in most livestock-rearing areas, disrupting the usual transhumance routes and leading to several households selling or relocating their herds out of the zone.

    Results from the recent nutrition survey are still to be published. However, UNICEF reports that access to essential health services has significantly reduced in the zone due to insecurity, with many communities unable to access important health and nutrition services like management of acute malnutrition, vitamin A supplements, deworming, and immunizations. Acute Malnutrition is likely increasing among very poor households as they struggle to access food with depleted household stocks and limited purchasing power for grains.

    Assumptions

    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Due to little carry-over stocks from the previous season, it is anticipated that many poor households in the zone will run out of harvested cereal stocks by December, which is earlier than usual (typically in March). As a result, they will rely much more on market purchases of all basic grains. 
    • Household demand is expected to remain higher, with households depending on markets earlier and for more extended periods due to the rapid depletion of household stocks. Prices of locally harvested staples such as maize and rice will likely continue to increase seasonally as the lean season approaches and stay significantly higher than last year and the five-year average.
    • Households in cropping areas are expected to access labor opportunities for clearing, tilling, and planting with the onset of the cropping season in February 2024, which will boost their incomes. However, the demand for agricultural labor is predicted to stay lower than usual due to the reduced area planted by middle and better-off households. Daily wages in rural areas are also expected to remain lower than usual because of the reduced payment power of middle and better-off households who hire labor.
    • Due to persistent instability in the zone, agricultural operations at the onset of the 2024 cropping season will likely experience interruptions. Separatist groups are anticipated to continue enforcing weekly "ghost town" days and occasional lockdowns lasting from three days to two weeks, restricting households' ability to access fields. The area planted is anticipated to remain significantly reduced, staying approximately 30 to 40 percent below average.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October 2023 to January 2024, many poor households in this area will have to rely on purchasing food due to insufficient main season harvests. Even with the off-season harvest in November and December, overall outcomes are not expected to change, given below-average harvest expectations. Many are expected to increase their reliance on charcoal/firewood sales, other forms of petty trading, and help from relatives to cope with the below-average agricultural incomes, debt repayment, and elevated food prices. Unfortunately, a sluggish business environment is expected to keep earnings low, leading to many more households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes as the lean season approaches and food consumption gaps widen. From January through May, staple food prices are expected to continue increasing and severely limit households’ access to food. This is likely to result in more significant gaps in food consumption and the adoption of negative coping strategies, such as a reduction in meal frequency and an increased reliance on debt. During the lean season, poor households in highland areas are expected to increase their consumption of wild edible plants and mushrooms to atypical levels. Some households will resort to selling their animals and poultry at low prices to generate income for buying food, non-food items, and farm inputs. Due to deteriorated livelihoods, the worst-affected households are expected to resort to severe negative coping strategies to get cash, such as selling any remaining productive assets or begging.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Cameroon Food Security Outlook October 2023 - May 2024: Rising food prices exacerbate food access concerns for poor households before the lean season arrives, 2023.

    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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