Rice, fish, vegetable oil are staples widely consumed in most households in Cameroon. Given their wide range of consumption, its demand is bound to remain high. Unfortunately, local production of the various food items remain unmatched with demand. To bridge the deficit therefore, Cameroon turns to other countries to import, thus, spending huge sums of money on imports which negatively affects the country’s balance of trade. How to overcome these production hurdles in order to satisfy demand and limit import is a major preoccupation for the government and private producers.
Cameroon’s history in rice production dates as far back as independence era but its production has only been dwindling far below the demand. The Custom Administration say rice remains the main imported product after petroleum products. According to the 2013 statistics of the Customs, Cameroon spent FCFA 212.6 billion on 819.8 thousand tons. Estimates from the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development speaks of a 300,000 tons per year need but production revolves around 100,000 tons, forcing some 200,000 tons to be imported annually with over FCFA 100 billion spent on importation. In 2016, the government in a bid to discourage importation and stimulate local production, reinstated a custom duty of 5 per cent on imported rice.
The State-owned rice production company (SEMRY) in Yagoua in the Far North Region is unable to cultivate all the 13, 300 hectares of land due to inadequate technical and financial means. 80 per cent of its Paddy rice produced is exported to Nigeria unprocessed because of lack of equipment. The Upper Noun Valley Development Authority (UNVDA), producer of the famous Ndop Rice faces similar challenges with only 3,400 hectares of land cultivated out of the 15,000 hectares available. The Minister Delegate to the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Yaouba Abdoulaye recently visited rice production basins to unveil government’s ambitious plans to up production by 2020. Minister Henri Eyebe Ayissi of Agriculture and Rural Development also announced the availability of 37 varieties of rice produced by the Irrigated Rice Project with seeds expected to be distributed to farmers in the East, Centre and West Regions.
Frozen fish features fourth position on Cameroon’s importation list with some FCFA 142.7 billion spent on 180 tons imported in 2013 according to the Customs statistics. This figures are said to be increasing as the demand for the protein-rich food increases. Statistics gathered from the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industry (MINEPIA) indicates that the national demand of fish stands at 400,000 tons but local production can only boost of 180,000 tons annually. Divine Ngala Tombuh, Coordinator of Aquaculture and Entrepreneurship Project in MINEPIA attributes the low rate of production on artisanal fishing methods practiced in Cameroon. For production to surge, there is the need for fishing to be industrialised and it requires modern equipment and methods which most of the fishermen lack.
The recent alert on the existence of at least four fake brands of vegetable oil with poor standards by the Director General of Customs, Edwin Fongod Nuvaga, has stirred another debate on whether the local industry meets the demands of the consumers. The Association of Oleaginous Oil Producers of Cameroon (ARSOC) complained on poor sales due to the presence of imported cheaper vegetable oil in the market. ARSOC Secretary General, Jacquis Kemleu Tchabgou says Cameroon produces 32,000 litres of vegetable oil per month and imports 20,000 litres per month. 50 per cent of factories capacity is not productive because as he puts it, “you cannot produce without selling.”