Cameroon Seeks to Export Corn for the First Time Since 1974

March 11, 2016 07:08 AM
 
Cameroon Seeks to Export Corn for the First Time Since 1974

Cameroon plans to triple its corn harvest this year and become a net exporter of the grain for the first time since 1974.

Corn is the central African nation’s most-consumed staple after plantains and cassava. Cameroon was a net shipper of the grain until 42 years ago when higher cocoa and coffee prices lured farmers to plant those crops. The nation supplements the corn harvest produced by more than 3 million subsistence and small-scale farmers with imports from Malawi, Argentina, China, South Africa and Brazil to meet local demand for about 2 million metric tons annually, data from the Citizens’ Association for the Defense of Collective Interests and Agriculture Ministry show.

“The corn revolution is under way,” Alphonse Nti Belinga, coordinator of the government-run support program for the industry, said in a March 4 interview in the capital, Yaounde. “Our target this year is to triple harvests from 1.8 million to 5.4 million tons and as a result, cushion production deficits and become a net exporter again.”

Should Cameroon reach these output levels, it would rank among the top four producers in sub-Saharan Africa, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The additional tons would help ease food deficits in countries throughout the region that are suffering poor harvests because of drought caused by the El Nino weather pattern. An estimated 14 million people in southern Africa alone face hunger this year after low rainfall caused poor harvests in 2015, the United Nations World Food Programme said in January.

Production by central Africa’s biggest economy will increase after the ministry distributed 900,000 tons of free, drought-resistant seeds to farmers nationwide, Sixtus Loutsa, the seed fund manager at the ministry, said in a March 4 interview. About 150 accredited seed producers bred the varieties in 2013 and 2014, and the ministry is paying them 1.6 billion central African francs ($3 million) for the work, he said. The country no longer needs to import seeds except for those used by brewers because the nation lacks the required variety.

The non-genetically modified seeds that have been developed will improve yields to a range of 6 tons and 9 tons a hectare, up from 2 to 3 tons, Julbert Konango, a spokesman of the Chamber of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests, said in Yaounde on March 4.

Output Split

Yellow corn, which Cameroonians eat roasted, comprises about 30 percent of the nation’s output while the rest is white and mainly ground into flour and boiled to make a porridge known locally as fufu. Corn, whose main production season runs from March to October, was Cameroon’s biggest crop after sugar cane in 2013, data on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s website show.

The improvements in the corn industry started with the 2003 inception of a World Bank-backed state-run project for which the lender provided 50 billion francs of funding.

“Our goal is to lift growers from subsistence to market-oriented farming,” Thomas Ngue Bissa, the program’s national coordinator, said in an interview in Yaounde. “We provide funding for seed production, as well as financial and technical support for output, processing and marketing. We are urging farmers to group up in cooperatives so they can sell at optimal rates to the big buyers.”

Only 3.3 percent of Cameroon’s land was used for permanent crops in 2011, FAO data show. Thirteen percent of land is arable, while 42 percent is covered by forests, it said.

(Updates with land-use data in final paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Divine Ntaryike Jr. in Johannesburg at dramzi@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net, Ana Monteiro, Pauline Bax

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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