CAMEROON – Farmers in Cameroon are protesting the ban on all crop exports to Nigeria enforced by the government two weeks ago to protect the domestic trade.
Cameroon police and customs officials say they blocked scores of trucks that attempted to smuggle cash crops in the past two weeks from northern towns and villages into Nigeria.
Local newsrooms say the police have seized wheat, corn, rice, cocoa, and cotton since launching a temporary ban on all crop exports to Nigeria.
However, Baba Ahmadou, the spokesperson of the Association of Cereal Farmers on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria, faulted the move, arguing that many farmers are not able to store their crops for selling in Cameroon.
He added that Cameroon does not have enough facilities to protect cocoa, wheat, corn, rice, and sorghum from moisture, dust, and [insect] swarms that invade and destroy crops after harvest.
According to Ahmadou, farmers prefer selling their produce to a ready Nigerian market because rice, corn, and raw cotton processing equipment are scare, and old, and there are regular power cuts.
In addition, he explained that selling to Nigerian merchants is also more profitable, citing the example that farmers can get about 20% more for a 50-kilogram bag of unprocessed rice.
Conversely, the Cameroon government defended the move saying that it pays subsidies to farmers to sell their cash crops locally and at agreed prices, but they end up taking the commodities to Nigeria.
Cameroon’s Ministry of trade says the ban was needed as it loses US$165 million each year from the smuggling of cash crops to its northern neighbor – 60% of the total trade.
The Ministry of Agriculture noted that illegal cocoa exports to Nigeria spiked after anglophone separatists in 2017 launched a rebellion against Yaoundé.
Shivron Arrey, a cocoa exporter in Kumba, an English-speaking Southwestern town, told VOA Africa that the rebels stop them from selling the cash crops to French-speaking towns.
“With the separatists’ crisis, enterprises no longer come to buy cocoa,” she said. “Fighters destroy vehicles belonging to companies that attempt to buy. Cocoa farmers abandoned themselves. The easiest market they could count on was across the border in Nigeria.”
Even as Cameroon authorities say the military is protecting farmers from rebels so the domestic trade can resume, farmers feel that smuggling to Nigeria will continue if their options are facing separatist violence and lower prices at home or risking illegal exports across the porous border.