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Newsletter of Food and Trade Justice Program

 

Editorial : A silent humanitarian disaster in making in the Extreme North region of Cameroon

                                                                                                     By Jaff Napoleon Bamenjo, RELUFA's Coordinator

The extreme north region of Cameroon is noted for its high rate of food insecurity. Over recent years, the region has been characterized by successive natural disasters. In 2009 and 2011, droughts in the region resulted in poor harvests while in 2010 and 2012 floods devastated crops. These two phenomena resulted in only small stocks of cereals available for the over 2 million population during the lean season that generally runs from June to September each year. In 2013 and 2014, the influx of refugees fleeing the atrocities of the Boko Haram Islamic sect in northern Nigeria has added to the pressure in the villages that are close to the Cameroon border with Nigeria and since the beginning of 2015 things have worsened. The Boko Haram insurgents have resorted to making incursions in to Cameroon attacking and killing people in the villages. This has resulted in the villagers fleeing their homes and abandoning their farms. Consequently, food insecurity has been aggravated and the impact is already being felt in the region. The current situation has hampered the smooth functioning of the RELUFA community grain banks operated in the north of Cameroon.

 

In 2006, RELUFA with support from the Joining Hands network of the Presbyterian Hunger Program of PCUSA started community grain banks in some villages in the Diamare and Mayo Tsanaga divisions of extreme north region of Cameroon to address the food insecurity situation in these villages. The principle was to grant cereals to the community grain banks so that there is rotating stock in the village at all times where families without food can borrow during the lean period and reimburse during the harvest period. Reimbursement is always accompanied by a small interest payment leading to increasing grain stock in community grain banks that are well managed. Over the years the program had expanded to 42 different villages. From an initial 2522 bags of 120kg each of cereal accorded to the community grain banks in these villages at the start of the program in 2006, the available rotating stock in December 2014 was 2799 bags out of 2988 bags normally expected. Currently, 27 durable structures to store the grains had been constructed in 27 villages.

 

Une banque de Céréales Communautaire créée par RELUFA

Under current circumstances characterized by increasing insecurity due to the Boko Haram sect, food production in the northern region of Cameroon has been hampered and reimbursement of cereals borrowed from grain banks difficult. Currently, in Ribidis and Wampa villages for example, families have not reimbursed the 36 bags of cereals borrowed during the lean period last year. Hence their community grain banks are empty at moment. Following the restocking of cereals conducted last year, there is a deficit of 189 bags of cereal incurred by 29 out of the 42 community grain banks. The future appears bleak for the region as the current status of the RELUFA community grain banks indicates since the Boko Haram attacks are certainly jeopardizing the community grain banks and aggravating the food insecurity of families.

 

But, the situation as painted above is only a tip of the iceberg because the RELUFA community grain banks concerns only a segment of the population. Our evaluation estimates over 25.000 direct and indirect beneficiaries of community grain banks in the Diamare and Mayo Tsanaga divisions. Since the insecurity is affecting the entire region, almost 2 million people are exposed to famine. The Cameroon ministry of agriculture is already talking of 100.000 tons deficit of cereal. This certainly is not a good signal and one can fear of an impending humanitarian disaster in the extreme north region of Cameroon if the Boko Haram sect is not stopped urgently. Concerted efforts of all the neighboring countries of the lake Chad basin to confront the Islamic sect is ongoing but beyond the daily killings hunger is another silent humanitarian disaster in the making.

This is the time more than ever before to stand besides the people of northern Cameroon who are hungry and are being killed for committing no crime. We are all made in the image of the God the almighty and RELUFA and its partners will not remain indifferent to the plight of these brave people of northern Cameroon.


RELUFA celebrate World Food Day

                                                                                             By Jaff Napoleon Bamenjo, RELUFA's Coordinator

On the 16th of October, the 2014 World Food Day was celebrated by RELUFA through the organization of a workshop to raise the profile of Family Farming and advocate for the total respect of the right to food in Cameroon. This choice was informed by the theme of the 2014 World Food Day “Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth.” Bringing together representatives of relevant government ministries, international development partners, civil society organizations and the press, two presentations were made one on “promoting family agriculture to achieve food security in Cameroon and the second on the situation of the right o food in Cameroon.

 

 

Cross section of participants

 

The agricultural potential in Cameroon is enormous. With a total area of 475,000 km2, 15% of it is arable land, 31% pastures, 45% dense forests and 9% forest reserves and national parks. A significant portion of the population about 70% depends on agriculture for subsistence through family farms. However, these family farms are generally characterized by small areas used for cultivation hardly above 1 hectare, low productivity and high post harvest losses (30-40%). Their activities have little negative impacts on the environment because only traditional farming techniques are used. Many problems exist with respect to access to land because of the improper land tenure system that does not facilitate security of customary land ownership. Access to finance, fertilizers and other farms inputs are other impediments to family farming. But improving farming techniques, training farmers on proper techniques and use of agricultural inputs, facilitating their access to efficient farm equipment could improve the situation of family agriculture

Another major problem facing family farming in Cameroon is the situation of the vulnerable groups or segment of the population notably women, youth and indigenous people and the difficulties of their access to land even though women are the pillars of family farming and food security in Cameroon. It is therefore clear that achieving food sovereignty in Cameroon will largely depend on the importance accorded to family farming and this need targeted policies by the government to achieve this goal.

 

 

Briefing note on the right to Food by RELUFA, 16 october 2014

To end the celebration of World food day in Cameroon and raise perspectives for the future, a briefing paper on the right to food prepared by Patrick Herve Momba, Apollin Koagne and Jaff Bamenjo of RELUFA was presented to the participants.

 

The objective of this paper is to raise awareness of policy makers on the importance of the full implementation of the right to food in Cameroon as the country aspires to become an emerging country by 2035. The key message contained in the study is that 3 million Cameroonians still suffer from hunger and it will be difficult for Cameroon to meet the objectives of the first Millennium Development Goal which is to eradicate hunger and poverty. A framework law to regulate the right to food and recognition of the right to food as a human right were the key recommendations.


Should Cameroon worry about Transatlantic Treaties?

                                                                                                                           By Patrick Momba, Program Assistant

Crossroads between Transatlantic Partnership Agreement and Economic Partnership Agreement

Despite the reluctance shown by Central African countries since the signing of the Economic Partnership agreement (EPA) between the European Union and countries of the region in 2009, Cameroon finally ratified the agreement on July 25 2014 and it became operational on 04 August 2014. But Cameroon constitutes just one step towards the construction of a large commercial area because the European Union had long expressed its ambition to forge an agreement with all African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states. It must be said that Europe demonstrated exceptional vitality in the negotiation of free trade agreements and could be shortly in free trade and economic partnership with virtually all regions of the world. While a free trade agreement was signed with Canada in October 2013, negotiations are underway with Asia on the one hand and the United States on the other. It is expected for the latter example that the negotiations are concluded in 2015 but the Transatlantic Partnership Agreement (APT) has already attracted much concern and controversy as well.

While negotiators have clearly expressed their desire to maintain the preparatory work of the agreement in secrecy, some elements of the Transatlantic Partnership Agreement that filtered leaves one perplexed as to who are the real beneficiaries of such international arrangements: people or multinational companies. A totally paradoxical situation because it would be possible for a multinational company to bring before a specially created tribunal a State whose law would prove too rigorous as to diminish its profits. In other words, a European state could be brought to justice for too restrictive environmental or health legislation by an American company. Since US law is particularly flexible in the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the food industry or chemicals in farming, it goes without saying that Europe would find itself forced to reform its strict rules on environmental issues, health and quality so as not to have to undergo a genuine "judicial onslaught" coming from across the Atlantic.

What is the impact of the transatlantic treaty on food sovereignty in Cameroon?
Faced with this situation, the risk for African countries that have ratified the Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union may be economically damaging. Indeed, trade liberalization that is about to be carried out over a period of 15 years with the export of three product groups from the EU at 80%, could have a strong impact on the economy of Cameroon especially in the agricultural sector. Among the groups of products that will be liberalized, we find in the first group the basic necessities and seeds. Cameroonian agriculture is in a real slump, the idea of importing quality seeds from Europe to improve the performance of agricultural production is very attractive for operators.
However, if as we highlighted earlier, Europe reviews its protection standards including the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, the risk is real that one day (and very soon) transgenic seeds will be poured in Cameroon and that this is an additional problem to our national agriculture.

Since 21 April 2003, Cameroon has a law on the safety regime in modern biotechnology that includes provisions on GMOs. But the weakness of its content for the protection of the population against the little-known risks of these products is criticized by civil society organizations which even qualify it as being too permissive. For more than a decade that this text exists, the supposed implementation decree making the law operational is still awaited. One might even wonder if the text will ever be applied one day when we know that Europe is gradually opening up to genetically modified products and that the restriction of their entry in to Cameroon could be detrimental to the earnings of European producers.

 

Although not directly involved, the African countries that are intending to enter Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union or those that are already bound by the agreement should see that the transatlantic Treaty will have some impact on their economies. The United States and Europe together account for over 60% of global GDP and it is but normal that their actions have impact on the rest of the world.



The Need for the government of Cameron to take in to account the controversies on Genetically Modified Organisms

                                                                                By Michèle Danleu, Food and Trade Justice Program Officer


The food crisis that hit the world in 2008 has left no government indifferent. It is in the perspective of seeking solutions to curb hunger that strategies have been implemented by several Western governments to ensure food security for their populations. Among these solutions, we can mention: agricultural subsidies and the development of biotechnology to increase agricultural production as well as its sustainability. Regarding the development of biotechnology, it is still the preserve of multinational companies from major powers such as the United States (Monsanto and Dupont), Germany (Bayer) and Switzerland (Syngental). But the leader is Monsanto whose products are found in the four corners of the world, Africa included.

These biotechnology companies justify the production of Genetically Modified Organisms as a solution to fight against hunger claiming that it would improve agricultural productivity, minimize production costs and increase plant resistance to disease. However, this argument is refuted by critics who argue that this new technology will help to further increase the gap between rich and poor countries and thus world hunger. They argue that beyond the fight against hunger highlighted to justify their activities; these firms are primarily multinational companies with the main focus of making profits. Thus, Africa is seen from the angle of business opportunity than a continent where people come to solve the hunger problem.

The presence of GMOs in Africa for now is felt more in some countries such as Mali, Egypt, South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. The question on the subject divides opinion in these states between supporters of GMOs often encouraged by governments and who present only positive aspects and the opponents who highlight the negative impacts of GMOs on agriculture. Furthermore, the safety assessment of GMOs also creates controversy. Although there are very few studies showing that GM crops pose a threat to human and animal consumption, many Europeans are reluctant to consume them. According to the latest surveys published in France, 70 to 75% of European consumers do not want to consume GMOs. Therefore, to find outlets for these unwanted products in Europe, Africa may be their chosen destination, under the pretext that the continent suffers from hunger.

Cameroon as the rest of the world has not remained on the sidelines of the debate on this issue, hence the adoption in 2003 of a law on biotechnology in terms of security. A study presented in July 2013 through biotechnology researchers at the University of Yaounde I, indicates that nearly 25 percent of food imported into Cameroon contain GMOs. These products include oils, sardines and rice.


Imported Products in a supermarket instead

In contrast to France, which has a formal procedure for labelling GMO products to inform consumers, we observe in Cameroon a total lack of information on the presence of GMOs in certain food products found on the shelves of several supermarkets. Despite the fact that the 2003 law requires the labelling of products containing GMOs in its Article 49, the absence of the implementing decree of this law is a limitation because its presence could compel responsible supermarkets to comply. The right to consumer information is diminished because they do not have the opportunity to be informed about the existence of GMOs in food products.

 


Ultimately, since it is the state that guarantees the implementation of laws and decrees, taking into account the various controversies on GMOs, the state could improve Cameroonian law on biotechnology and the adoption of its implementing decree could provide a basis for better food and nutrition security of Cameroonians.





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