CAMEROON – The Cameroonian government has announced a plan to establish precise packaging and marketing regulations to curb the increasing cases of illegal cocoa bean exports to its neighbor, Nigeria, amidst protests by cocoa farmers.

According to industry operators, illegal cocoa exports to Nigeria have been ongoing for several years with the issue becoming more pronounced since the anglophone separatists launched a rebellion in 2017 to break away from the French-speaking majority.

Following this rebellion, the rebels proceeded to impose their own ban on the sale of cocoa to French-speaking towns, further reducing supplies in the region.

However, the current crisis of illegal exports has been triggered by the introduction of a 10% exit tax, which many observers note has encouraged dishonest exporters to seek ways to circumvent the law.

It is estimated that exit duties and export royalties lost through illegal exports amounted to CFA 10 billion (US$16.06 million), while CFA 60 billion (US$96.40 million) was lost in terms of foreign earnings.

“It was noted that for the 2022-2023 cocoa campaign, the volume of fraudulent exports, mainly to Nigeria, has reached unprecedented levels, between 30,000 and 60,000 tons, which represents 10% to 20% of national cocoa production,” said Minister of Trade, Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, on June 13.

“These costs the public treasury about CFA 10 billion (USS$16.06 million), in terms of exit levies and export royalties, and a net loss of about CFA 60 billion (US$96.40 million) in terms of foreign exchange repatriation.”

By imposing the exit levies, the Cameroonian government aims to promote local processing and curb fraudulent exits that cause significant losses to the national economy.

Since the ban, Cameroonian customs officials from the Active Group of the South-West region are reported to have seized eight trucks loaded with cocoa beans in the towns of Mamfé, Ekok, and Besong Abang.

The seizure of illegal cocoa bean exports and the continued ban have not been well-received by cocoa farmers, who have protested and blocked hundreds of tons of beans from leaving their farms.

As the ban continues, cocoa farmers remain steadfast, holding daily street protests aimed at pressuring the government to lift the export ban in southwestern villages and towns.

Cameroon’s cocoa farmers insist they can get nearly double the price for cocoa and ready market in Nigeria, where they don’t face threats from separatists.

“We should be able to decide where and when to sell our cocoa,” said Joan Mary Becke, aged 27, a cocoa farmer in Mamfé, a town on Cameroon’s border with Nigeria.

“The government of Cameroon has been unable to protect farmers from separatists who have prohibited the sale of cocoa in French-speaking regions. Should farmers and their families die of hunger when there is a ready Nigerian market for cocoa?”