Cocoa firms operating in Cameroon have moved staff out of the Anglophone region of the country and farmers are abandoning their crops in the area, as violence between separatists and security forces intensifies, exporters and farmers told Reuters.
Sources say the deepening conflict has started denting cocoa output and flow from the southwest, stripping the region of its mantle as Cameroon’s top cocoa-growing area.
Telcar Cocoa, Olam and Theobroma are among the firms that have moved the majority of their staff out of southwest Cameroon due to safety concerns, according to several sources with knowledge of the matter.
Some cocoa farmers have also abandoned their plantations and fled, driven out by a rise in kidnappings, extortion and fighting between insurgents and security forces.
“Producers have fled into the bush and elsewhere, and can no longer take care of their plantations,” said James Mosima, president of the union of southwest cocoa farmers. “The situation is really very difficult.”
Cameroon has been gripped by violence since November 2016, when government forces crushed a movement of Anglophone teachers and lawyers protesting against their perceived marginalization by the country’s French-speaking majority.
The protests morphed into an insurgency of separatists seeking independence for the Anglophone southwest and northwest regions, which were controlled by Britain during colonialism.
The crisis has intensified ahead of elections in October, with the increasingly bloody clashes hitting cocoa trade in what was once the key cocoa region of Cameroon, the world’s fifth-largest producer.
In recent months, insurgents have abducted and killed soldiers while security forces responded by burning villages and opening fire on fleeing residents, according to witnesses. The army denies such accusations.
Sources say deteriorating security has made it increasingly difficult for cocoa buyers and exporters to operate in the area. At least one warehouse belonging to Telcar, the largest buyer in the region, was burned, according to several sources with knowledge of the matter.
The crisis has led major cocoa firms – including Telcar Cocoa, Theobroma and Olam – to relocate most of their staff from the region, according to sources.
Telcar Cocoa is a joint venture between Cargill and Cameroonian businesswoman Kate Kanyi Fotso Tometi. Theobroma is part of ECOM Group.
The sources said Theobroma has relocated its staff some 150 km (95 miles) south, from the Mamfe region to Kumba. Olam, meanwhile, has moved staff out of Mamfe and Kumba to the economic capital, Douala, the sources said.
Most international companies had small teams stationed in the region, they said, with one of the sources estimating 15-20 people were moved altogether.
Cargill declined to comment. Olam and ECOM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cameroon’s trade minister and Fotso also declined to answer questions about the crisis in the Anglophone regions.
Most international export firms now use local buying agents as intermediaries to source cocoa from the affected areas, exporters said.
“At one point, if the effort or the risk is too much … you leave it to the buying agents,” one source at an international firm said.
BULLETS AND EXTORTION
Some farmers also said they had fled, fearing violence and threats from separatists demanding payments to allow cocoa to move out of the southwest.
Several cocoa farmers who had left that region told Reuters armed groups had been targeting “rich men” and demanding money to allow the flow of goods out of the area.
In June, Peter, 59, abandoned his cocoa farm and sought refuge in Douala with his wife and four children.
“Since (the) beginning of this year … not a week has passed without an exchange of fire between army and separatist fighters,” said Peter, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.
“I had three hectares of cocoa and I gave up everything. I could not stay because, apart from bullets, the separatists extorted money from us.”
As many as 200,000 people have fled the English-speaking regions since late last year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
As farmers flee the southwest, sources say the conflict has started to hit cocoa output and flow.
The southwest accounted for 45 percent of Cameroon’s production in 2016/17, but its share dropped to 32 percent last season, according to CICC, the country’s cocoa regulator.
Cameroon produced 253,510 tonnes of beans in the 2017-2018 season.
The conflict has made it more difficult to move beans out of the Anglophone region and into the main port in Douala, the sources said.
Cameroon’s cocoa stocks built up to 21,159 tonnes in 2017-2018, from 7,212 tonnes in the prior season, according to the National Office of Cocoa and Coffee (ONCC).
“The vast majority of this stock is in the English-speaking region because the fighting paralyses everything,” a source at the ONCC said.
However, trade sources said cocoa was still finding its way out of the southwest, as more beans were being smuggled into Nigeria instead.
One trade source estimated that volumes flowing across the border rose to 30,000-40,000 tonnes last season, from about 10,000 in previous years.
“At the end of the day, cocoa is money for the locals,” the source said. “It’s like water – it always finds its way out.”
NYSC Introduces Biometric Clearance System To Curb Corruption – DG
Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Major Gen Suleiman Kazaure, has disclosed that the corps has introduced a biometric clearance system to eliminate corruption and compromise by officials and corps members.
The DG stated this on Monday during a leadership and anti-corruption sensitisation workshop in Abuja, designed to raise a crop of officials that would imbibe good leadership qualities and enthrone a culture of transparency and accountability.
He also revealed that the scheme had ensured strict compliance with government policies on the treasury single account, integrated personnel and payroll system, and government integrated financial management information system.
The D.G says the introduction of biometric clearance system for corps members has virtually eliminated all chances of compromise by officials, as well as absenteeism and abscondence by corps members.
The biometrics system now ensures only deserving corps members are paid the monthly and other statutory allowances.
Zimbabwe: Party Accused Of Partisan Distribution Of Aid To Victims Of Cyclone
Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF lawmaker for Chimanimani East, Nokuthula Matsikenyere, has been sucked into the eye of a storm over the partisan distribution of aid to victims of cyclone idai.
Chimanimani and Chipinge in the south east of Manicaland were the worst affected areas by the storm that left a trail of destruction and more than a hundred forty persons dead.
Affected villagers have accused ruling ZANU-PF officials, including Matsikenyere, of politicizing the disaster relief donated by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). They said the aid was given to only ZANU-PF supporters.
In a heated meeting on Saturday in a village where the relief aid was distributed, Matsikenyere was quoted as openly saying to the disgruntled villagers they deserved to be deprived of the disaster relief because they did not vote for her during last year’s elections.
The lawmaker later confirmed to a news crew that she directed the aid distribution, but that she was not involved in compiling names of recipients. She did not admit to saying what the villagers attributed to her.
Study Shows Millions In Africa Live In Fear Of Losing Their Homes
A new study Prindex shows tens of millions of urban dwellers in Sub-Saharan Africa live in fear of losing their homes against their will.
The study shows that in eighteen countries surveyed, nearly thirty-two million adults in urban areas are “insecure in their rights to their home and land.”
The study says this means that more than sixty million adults living in urban areas are tenure insecure. If the trend continues, the study says insecurity could afflict more than two hundred million by 2050.
Measuring security of tenure is one of the indicators used to assess progress in attaining the first of the sustainable development goals, which is the eradication of poverty.
Prindex is an initiative launched by two think tanks—the global land alliance, and the London-based overseas development institute.
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