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Posted on Thursday, 26 November 2015 11:00

Cameroon: Hunger, anger and fear

By Ntaryike Divine Jr in Douala

Photos© Xinhua news agencyFresh Boko Haram attacks in the north exacerbate food insecurity

Early in the morning of 11 October, Cameroon woke up to news of fresh Boko Haram suicide bombings in its Far North Region. The twin blasts – the eleventh attack within the space of three months – were at Kangaleri, some 30km from Mora.

It is tough, and we're told that it will get tougher in the coming months

The blasts killed nine people and injured 30. They also triggered a mass exodus of Kangaleri's farmers to relatively safer destinations.

Even before the Nigerian jihadists began targeting Cameroon's northernmost region in 2013, northern Cameroonian politicians had been critical of the regime of President Paul Biya because of marginalisation. The government is now struggling to fight off a growing food crisis and high levels of insecurity.

Agriculture and rural development minister Essimi Menye explained the problems of the Far North Region in August: "Some 70% of farmers in the region have deserted their farms since last year and, additionally, Nigerian refugees are now occupying some 200ha of land previously used for agriculture."

In late September, intensified raids on Boko Haram hideouts by Chadian and Cameroonian troops led the insurgents to seek refuge in villages bordering Lake Chad. Wherever they encountered resistance, as occurred at Tchika on 26 September, they beheaded villagers, torched houses, rustled cattle and carted tonnes of food across the border into Nigeria.

200,000tn
is the cereal deficit expected in the
Far North Region 2015 after 70%
of growers deserted their farms

"The situation became unbearable. We were forced to flee empty-handed to Kousséri, abandoning everything including maize and beans ready for harvest on our farm," Baba Lawan, a grey-haired father of five, tells The Africa Report.

Lawan and his family are among thousands believed to have fled the growing Boko Haram menace. Local newspaper L'Oeil du Sahel reported on 1 October that more than 12,000 people had deserted some 10 villages flanking Lake Chad.

Local authorities say the Boko Haram threat has tilted the region dangerously close to the brink of a food crisis. Abakachi, the Far North's regional delegate for the agriculture and rural development ministry, explains: "This year, rainfall has been catastrophic and we expect deficits in cereal production to surpass 200,000tn." According to the agro-engineer and economist, rice, sorghum, maize, beans and millet yields have slumped by 50% compared to last year for a region with cereals need estimated at 770,000tn annually.

At the main market in the regional capital, Maroua, a 50kg bag of millet, which previously sold at 15,000 CFA francs ($26) now costs 20,000 CFA francs. The price of the same quantity of maize has soared from 17,000 to 22,000 CFA francs. "It is tough, and we're told that it will get tougher in the coming months," says Zoua Alba, a mother of three. "Previously, my husband made it possible to provide about 3kg of rice for the family per day, but now, we can only afford 1kg."

Since March, the government has resorted to quick fixes, including periodic food aid for the worst-affected populations. But that, too, has apparently failed to curb the rising numbers of hungry people.

For an area that was already hostile to President Biya's 33-year-old regime, experts warn the escalating hunger is gradually metamorphosing into flaring frustration and anger.

At a Yaoundé conference on food security in October, doctor and philanthropist Denis Foretia explained: "Whenever things don't work in the country, the government has to take the blame for it. It's conceivable that the food crisis can balloon into anti-Biya sentiments, and there is no solution to the food crisis in the Far North without solving the Boko Haram quagmire. Food security is now not only an issue of economic security but of national security as well."



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