Revamping rice production in Cameroon

Grwoing rice in Cameroon (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Aaron Kaah
Growing rice in Cameroon (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Aaron Kaah)

By Aaron Yancho Kaah

Imported Rice is the cheapest commodity one readily finds in Cameroon’s local markets. The government’s  reluctance to boast local  production saw the massive and the indiscriminate importation of rice into the country. This import policy killed the local rice sector.

Over the last few  years, the Cameroonian government has been mapping out strategists to revamp the rice sector. Some institutions have been put in place to ensure this transformation. The Upper Noun Valley Development Authority in the NW  and the SEMRY project in the North regions  last year received  a government subvention to boost local  rice production.

The government also trumpeted a new  species of rice that will improve yields and face the changing weather patterns.
One year down the road the expected out put is till far fetched.

The importation of rice is still an on going phenomenon. This is evident as the demand for rice consumption in the country is far more higher than what is produced in the local markets and farms. Sources  from the Cameroon customs department puts the rice importation figures in 2014 at 552,000 tons of rice as against 139,000 in 2013, representing an increase of 8.9%.
At the local markets, instead of the Ndop Rice  that is produced by the Upper Noun Valley Development Authourity UNVDA or the SAMRY rice that comes from the  Northern region of Cameroon, the Pakistani, Thailand or Chinese rice sell like hot cakes.

The disturbing fact about these statistics are that Cameroon has enormous potentials  and high arable fertile land  for rice cultivation.

According  to records  from the ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Cameroon produces  only 100.000 tons of rice far below the 300.000 tons on demand annually. In a recent report by a French language news tabloid, the importation of foreign rice was also attracting foreign taxes.

In a 2014 report, rice importers in Cameroon published  what they condemned as a health inspection fee of 250 Fcfa per ton of rice imported  through the Douala port from  January of 2014 by the ministry of public health. The importers labelled the fee as dubious and a means to corrupt the sector.

During a board meeting of the Upper Noun Valley Development  Authority  Board meeting at Ndop a year ago, the members  focused on developing  strategies aimed at ameliorating rice cultivation in the institution and also  map out ways of meeting up with the national demand.

Officials at the Cameroon agro-sector say this institution is seeking ways of  maximizing  its potentials  through the introduction of two cropping seasons. This means they will be  expected to  produce 75,000 tons of rice on a surface area of 15,000 hectares.
On another score, the SEMRY project in the Northern region that produces  70 to 80% of Cameroon home-consumed rice  announced  the  acquisition of  a rice paddy transformation machine with a ten ton capacity. SEMRY is in record for producing over 70,000 to 80,000 tons of rice annually. These giant rice making institutions  are charged with the task of ameliorating local rice consumption on Cameroon territory within a given time frame.

During a National Agro-Pastoral Show at Ebolowa in Cameroon in 2011, some  farmers were unanimous that  rice was not only an income earner for the country but a stable food crop that needed the attention of all development stakeholders. Asangue Pius winner of the best rice farm project from the North West Region of Cameroon  remarked that motivating farmers through the creation of local farmer banks could enhance access to loans  to help improve local production and processing.

Challenges in local production

The lack of investment  in the rice sector saw the drop in the production capacity across the country.

By 1989 rice production in Cameroon dropped  to 62,000 tons as against 70,000 tons that were harvested in 1961. At the Ndop valley ,the bastion of rice production in the NW region, some 4,985 tons were produced  in 1995 which constitutes  an insignificant output compared to the 1980 production which stood at double digits.

By 1990 mechanized  rice subsidies  were already eliminated. This gave way to a string of challenges in the rice cultivation schemes. The devaluation of the CFA Francs and the structural adjustment plans   in the early 1990’s   forced the Cameroonian government to relegate extensive farming projects. The rice sector was now in the hands of poor subsistent farmers. To meet up and satisfy the growing demand  for rice, the government began engaging in the importation of rice.

The failure of some agricultural project like the SODERIM  to stay above the steam, saw their doors shot as a resulting lack of finance. The difficulty in obtaining loans and incentives to improve production, in  the  climate changes, many farmers gave off their efforts in pursuing  rice production. The loss of water  and  the seasonal uncertainties got many communities wiped out of the rice production map.

Revamping the Sector

More Rice production in Cameroon could help reverse the negative  ongoing trade balance  in the  markets, provide jobs for youths and incomes for the rural poor. This means government had the task to stop the importation of rice  which is /was considered cheaper in the local markets to concentrate on local production.

Imported rice is highly subsidised and this explains why locally produced rice seems highly costly in the local markets. Farmers across Cameroon explain that  the cost of producing rice is far too high for them to compete favourably with importers.

“The only  remedy could be for government to subsidise us,” Mboh Mike a rice farmer  remarked. Though these farmers feared that corruption could dampen the government subsidizing schemes, they opined that creating local loan schemes at community levels to finance rice cultivation could brighten the  sector and their hopes.

Some farmers  affirm that the introduction of new varieties like the NERICA rice species alongside the provision of fertilizers  and insecticides could ameliorate production and interest in the sector, Others want an immediate stop to importation. It is now left for the stakeholders in this sector to urge  government  to protect farmers in rice cultivation who are very passionate to reap the fruits of their labour in Cameroon.


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