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Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We often say a hungry man is an angry man. This assertion has never been truer than in 2008, when a poor rice harvest sparked a global food crisis. Hungry masses were in deed mad at their governments for high food prices and regular shortages and took to the streets. Since then some governments have understood even more how crucial it is for their citizens to be able to put food on their tables.

So after Tanzania and Mali, some eight hundred participants from about sixty different countries are attending the third Africa rice congress in Yaoundé, Cameroon between October 21 and 24, 2013. The event is organised for the third time by the AfricaRice Centre, an advocacy and research group pushing for Africa’s self-reliance in rice.


·        Africa imports a third of global rice trade

·        Africa imports 40-50% of the rice it consumes

·        India, Thailand and Vietnam are some of the biggest exporters

·        In five years Africa’s production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%

Opening the event, Cameroon’s Scientific Research and Innovation minister, Madame Magdalene Tchuente, said “Africa needs the best existing science to double its rice production by 2018”.

Peter Matlon the American-born Chairman of the AfricaRice Board of Trustees called on rice producers, researchers, marketers, and policy-makers to exploit this platform to share experiences to help Africa produce its own rice and feed the rest of the world.

Better Harvests Higher Demand


Aliou DIAGNE an Impact Assessment Economist at AfricaRice says “Since 2008 Africa's rice production has gone up from 3% to 8.4%” a clear indication that governments in West and East Africa, as well as Egypt are upholding the continent’s production.

The Senegalese born economist however revealed that as harvests have improved, so has demand. “China is currently negotiating with Thailand to import a million tons of rice yearly” he said. This not only means Africa is facing competition but can push on with production, because the market is real. 

 Dr REN WANG Assistant Director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, praised the increased production of Africa on new rice varieties, seeds which have been grown in irrigated systems, rain fed conditions, and others in dryer upland farms.

Cameroon’s Rice Report Card


More optimistic forecasts say Africa could become the world’s granary, exporting rice to the rest of the world if the rice sector is well-developed by 2025.

Cameroon is considered as one of the countries with the ability of leading this rice revolution, a potential rice hub. However the sector is still facing huge structural difficulties.

Like most of Africa Cameroon has a rice dream, putting an end to importation by adding four hundred thousand extra tons yearly to its current production figures.

Sali Atanga, Post-Doctoral Fellow, and Rice Researcher at IRAD says “Cameroon currently produces three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand tons of PADY yearly. When hulled production stands at about two hundred thousand tons. Cameroonians consume six hundred thousand tons yearly.”

As I blogged a couple of years ago, during the Agro-Pastoral show, this means current production falls short of demand by four hundred thousand tons. All of this rice is bought from abroad, a frustration for President Paul Biya who promised to put in place policies to reduce rice importation.

Has he been doing his job? So far rice production is driven mainly by the two government agencies SEMRY and UNVDA. Without a speedy involvement of private investors the goal of tripling rice production may remain just a fantasy.

Moreover the sector is afflicted by problems of its own. Sali Atanga says “there is need for seed production to be produced large scale. Farmers do not need new varieties, they just need the existing varieties to be in good supply.”

He added that poor post-harvest practices partly take the blame for the low supply of locally grown rice in supermarkets and local markets. “The Land Tenure policy makes it impossible for small farm holdings to expand production” he added.

Research and Innovation has proven that Cameroon can depend not only on irrigated systems, but also on upland farms to boost production. However industrialisation remains the missing link. For the country to multiply current production by three, government must go beyond small farm holdings by creating the environment that attracts the kind of money that leads to large scale quality rice production. Private investors.

How can a business be proven to be profitable, with an available market yet almost no private investors are grabbing the opportunity? This is the Cameroonian dilemma.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Decrypting Cameroon Politics


I set out on my third career political campaign coverage, with a lofty goal-understanding Cameroonian politics. Or at least have a go at some of those unanswered questions that have kept many in deep distrust of ‘our democracy’.

This Facebook post summed up the conundrum I was, and to a large extent am still faced with.


Decoding Cameroonian Politics- I will spend 2 weeks in the watershed Adamawa region. The region is believed to be a 'UNDP fort' however, the party failed to secure any of the ten parliamentary seats in the last elections. In a bi-partisan style the CPDM and UNDP jointly run many councils, notably in the big town of Ngaoundere.
How can the UNDP be so strong in the urban areas and so weak in the rural areas?
Is the rural vote strong enough to give any party a downright win as was the case in the Adamawa in the last parliamentary poll? Will be looking for answers...


Three weeks plus later, I must say I have a few answers (smile) but not a full picture of what politics in Cameroon is all about.

Let’s focus for a while on the Adamawa region. I was bemused at the purported ‘strength’ the UNDP party when I arrived the region. Simply because the figures pointed the other way. In a region with 21 councils and 10 parliamentary seats, the UNDP in the last legislature held no seat in parliament, and controlled two of the eight councils in the Vina Division (Ngaoundere I and II with a few councillors in Ngaoundere III) Most of the surrounding councils (Belel, Mbe, Ngangha, Nyambaka, Martap) were CPDM-run.

One can deduce therefore that the CPDM is strong in the rural areas and weak in the urban areas. The opposition has over the years read behind this assertion, the ‘well synced rigging machinery’ of the CPDM. Given that most of these rural areas are inaccessible, both for political parties and election observers.

A master’s student at the University of Ngaoundere told us in one of the pubs of Dang, that his first experience as an election scrutiniser was in a far off village only accessible by bike. He had been advised to carry his food along in his rug sack, a remark he only found pertinent on Election Day in the middle of no man’s land.

At the polling station, they were more interested in signing out their allowances for the job, and be done with it, than with the tab of the ballot box, which had inexplicably been broken. Experiences like this, many who have come up close to the election process, can recount tons.

But this year, I witnessed (in an urban area), a different story all together. Voters who crowded polling centres at nightfall and together tallied the votes. An attitude that certainly reduces room for foul play considerably.

I am of the opinion that our political parties are too weak, or too amateurish to man all the voting centres across the country. This lapse can be filled by genuinely involved voters like the ones I saw in some parts of Ngaoundere. Who do not just vote and go away, but wait to know the outcome.

Returning to the theme of the urban vote vs. the rural vote, it is hard to tell why the village people in the Adamawa do not vote, like the city people of Ngaoundere do, assuming the city people know better what is in their interest.

Politicians will tell you, most rural people vote along tribal lines, and the opposition fails to campaign in the remote areas. These are all part of the answer I guess, but it does not seem to explain everything.

In most countries the urbanised areas, presumably the more populated, should sway the vote in favour of one candidate or the other, but over the years, politicians have been trying to convince us that especially in the northern regions, the voting public is found in out of sight villages, and cannot be underestimated, as their vote in the end can decide the polls.

This is certainly possible in the case of the parliamentary poll, where a candidate is believed to be strong in 5 rural areas out of 8 sub-divisions (I still have to check if the demographics in these rural areas outweigh the urban).

So, as you can see, I still have many questions unanswered, this election has certainly helped me realise the value of reaching out to the remotest areas in political campaigning, and we must agree, this is an uphill task for politicians across the globe. Is this inaccessibility playing in favour of one candidate and not the other? Do rural voters follow the trend of their peers in the urban areas? Do rural voters vote for parties (loyalty) or candidates? These are all questions that need to be studied further by political scientists, to better understand the Cameroonian voting public, and explain the success or failure of one campaign over the other.