Despite posing a scarcity in the global wheat supply chain, the war in Ukraine has helped many Cameroonian farmers to grow more wheat, and in the process, they have become more self-reliant.
Basilius Fondzeyuf Tatah, a wheat farmer in Oku, Northwest region of Cameroon has been in wheat production since 2015. Little was known of him until 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. His popularity rose because when the wheat supply to Cameroon stopped, he was ready to provide a solution. Wheat remains one of Cameroon’s staple foods.
Cameroon relies so much on imported wheat for products like bread and other wheat flour products, but owing to the shortage in supply caused by the war in Ukraine, attention was shifted to local farmers.
Basilius and over 250 wheat farmers of the 45,000 locals in 36 villages in Oku were there waiting.
He entered into wheat production owing to the numerous opportunities in its value chain and now he describes it as a ‘green gold’ which at first was for household consumption but now, they are making money from it and hope to earn much more.
At first, Basilius and the rest of the farmers he had trained could only produce 10 tonnes of Wheat per season. But with the war in East Europe, they saw it as an advantage and went into mass production last July 2022. Following their last harvest in January 2023, they produced more than twice what they used to produce before the war.
Talking to AC on Wednesday, February, 15, he said “We managed 30 tons. The hikes in fertilizer prices stopped many farmers from using it and yields dropped drastically. It could have reached 70 tons and above. Considering the volume of land cultivated in 2022 was 20 hectares”
From being the leader of the Oku Sienteh Wheat Project, he is now the President of the Cameroon Wheat Development Cooperative Society abbreviated as CAWDEV-COOPBOD. The cooperative that markets wheat for the farmers revolves around integrity and credibility. “We work without minding who takes the benefits. Our interest is community development,” he told AC, adding that owing to demand, they are galvanising to produce more. “We are struggling to withhold seeds, farmers almost sold it out to consumers and others”
Ukraine War, A Blessing?
Now that wheat grown in Oku and other parts of Cameroon has come under the spotlight, he says it is an opportunity for them to leverage and produce more and as well, earn more.
“It is time for us farmers to rethink what the future holds for our activities as we shall have many mouths to feed and earn huge amounts of money to benefit our lives as Cameroon and the world population increase drastically,” he said.
It is not only in Oku, wheat production is now done in the Northern regions and also West and Southwest regions of Cameroon.
Despite the effects caused by the shortage of wheat from Ukraine which accounts for 65% of Cameroon’s importation, Basilius believes it is a blessing to them.
“Everything in life has its own time,” He said “I think it is Cameroon’s own time to elaborate on wheat production for both local and export purposes. I am very grateful for the timely disruption in the wheat supply chain to Cameroon. That has created this opportunity. We will soon be exporting wheat for food and income”
In Oku, items made from wheat include Sintieh beer, bread, cakes, and puff-puff doughnuts among others. Oku will swiftly become the nation’s grain hub, much like Ukraine has been for the rest of the globe, thanks to the production of wheat. He predicts that wheat cultivation in Oku is here to stay and is already having a significant impact on residents through improved nutrition and increased financial stability for local people.
With the creation of the cooperative, they are hoping to make wheat farmers richer. He said they are strategising to procure machines that will enable them to produce wheat on a large scale.
“Cameroon is not joking again. People now understand a lot of things and move away from being cheated on on imported items. The market for our product is going to be campaigned by the whole region. Not the farmers only. Imagine that in every household, we shall have somebody who is going to advocate for us” he said.
Before the last planting season, Basilius and his organization dispatched a good quantity of seeds to some private farms across all divisions of the Northwest and some parts of the Southwest, Littoral, West, and Centre Regions of Cameroon. “In effect, we’re working hard to unite our voices in action towards a breakthrough in wheat cereal availability in Cameroon shortly,” he said.
To empower more potential wheat farmers, trials are being carried out in several areas around Bui Division, and where they do well, interested persons are given seeds to also grow more and increase output. “Most of the seeds we had last year were shared to other potential wheat farmers in areas we were still investigating wheat performance there like Sabga, Kwanso, Jakiri, Noi Visombo and other places in Kumbo around Banyern”, Munyuy Jacob said
Wheat Is Grown In Other Parts Too
Another area that grows wheat in Bui Division too is Kumbo, still in Cameroon’s Northwest Region. Munyuy Jacob is equally a wheat farmer whose family has been growing wheat for 20 years now only for subsistence purposes.
Munyuy says the reduction of foreign wheat has created awareness about wheat production in Kumbo and over 100 farmers went into production in the last season. For the past 20 years, his family has been producing 0.5 tonnes annually, selling a kilogram of it at FCFA 800.
Most of their consumers used to be white doctors from the West working at the biggest hospitals in Kumbo. Munyuy says they know what wheat was meant for, unlike the residents who believed it was something used to feed animals. Despite the devastating impact of the war in Europe, he cries with joy.
“We have been grateful for the advent of the war in Ukraine,” Munyuy says “Many people have become aware that something like wheat exists here mainly because of the war in Ukraine. Before, they never knew where the flour was coming from.”
Wheat Imported To Cameroon
According to Cameroon’s Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Cameroon imported 900,000 tonnes of wheat and wheat flour worth FCFA 180 billion in 2021 and 2022, the country expected an increase by 30,000 tonnes. They ended with a deficit instead, owing to the block in the supply chain.
Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, Cameroon’s Minister of Trade, last year while presiding over a meeting with bakery owners and wheat importers owing to the shortage, said the war has deprived the country of about 60% of wheat imported from both Ukraine and Russia, and the government was very worried because the absence of wheat could cause a social crisis in Cameroon.
Well, that worry might soon be over because wheat farmers are seeing it as an opportunity for local production of wheat to be prioritised especially with the government, recent import substitution policy which allocated FCFA 137 billion to help local companies
How To Grow More Wheat In Cameroon
Cameroon’s National Institute of Statistics says the country mainly buys wheat from Ukraine, which accounts for 65% of its total imports.
As an escape plan, the government urged local farmers to step up production while encouraging Cameroonians to provide alternatives from Cassava, potatoes, and banana flour. Cameroon produces less than one-fourth of the 1.6 million tonnes of wheat it needs each year.
The production of wheat in Cameroon started in 1976 with just 370 tonnes produced annually and by 1979 the country produced 1,548 tonnes which have become its highest in History.
Wheat is a staple food many largely depend on. 13 million of Cameroon’s 26 million people who consume bread every day no longer have a consistent supply – the government says.
To completely mitigate the impact, the Cameroon Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, IRAD suggested in April 2022 that the country should include 10% of cassava flour in wheat flour for bread production. This measure would generate the production of 680,200 tonnes of tubers, 34,000 ha of fields, 6,000 direct jobs, and more than FCFA 11 billion ($17 Million) in savings each year.
To the institute, in places like Wassandé and Banyo in the Adamaoua Region, some parts of Cameroon’s Northwest and West Regions, experimental farms have been created, and they produce four tonnes of wheat per hectare.
The UN Agency, Food, and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, says global wheat production in 2022 is predicted to decline from the 2021 record level by 0.8%, reaching 771 million tonnes and marking the first drop in four years. It furthers that with global production in 2022, preliminarily forecast to exceed utilisation in 2022/23, world wheat stocks are set to increase marginally, by 0.4%, to 298 million tonnes by the close of the seasons in 2023. However, much of that increase is foreseen to be concentrated in China, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine, while stock drawdowns are anticipated in several countries in Africa and Asia.