Photos of many sacks of rice stacked in warehouses in far northern Cameroon were posted on Facebook in early August. According to the group that posted the images-- which works for food sovereignty-- this rice was produced in Cameroon but has never been sold, even though the country imports large quantities of rice every year. The group called it a "scandalous" situation, considering the struggles faced by local rice producers.

These photos were taken on August 2 and 3, then posted online on August 5 by Bernard Njonga, the president of a group that works for food sovereignty and other topics, called ACDIC, or the Citizen Association for the Defense of Collective Interests (in French, Association citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts collectifs).

The photos and videos, which have garnered tens of thousands of views, were taken in Yagoua and Maga, where most of Cameroon’s rice is grown. They show locally produced rice stocked in warehouses belonging to a public organisation that supports local rice growers called the Society for the Expansion and Modernisation of Rice-growing in Yagoua (known as SEMRY, the acronym for the French Société d’Expansion et de Modernisation de la Riziculture de Yagoua).

"The SEMRY shops are full of unhusked rice in YAGOUA and Maga (about 160,000 tons). Some of the stock dates back to 2015", reads the post. "We import and import rice more and more. More than 800,000 tons in 2017 for a total of more than 150 billion FCFA."

According to ACDIC president Njonga, who wrote the post, this situation came about because it is more profitable for shopkeepers to buy foreign rice than local rice.

Facebook post by Bernard Njonga (translated from French): "CAMEROONIAN RICE. 'THE SCANDAL OF THE CENTURY IN YAGOUA & MAGA' STOP!" These photos were taken in Maga and Yagoua, in far northern Cameroon.

"Cameroonian rice producers don’t get any subsidies"

Bernard Njonga told the FRANCE 24 Observers team about what he calls a "scandalous" situation.

When I went to Yagoua and Maga, I didn’t expect to see so much rice in the warehouses- especially not rice that has been sitting there unsold since 2015!

Currently, the cost of producing rice in Cameroon elevated because rice producers don’t get any subsidies. What's more, transporting a bag of rice between Yagoua and Yaoundé costs more than if it came from Beijing. So, for shopkeepers, it is more profitable to buy foreign rice than local rice. So, Cameroonian rice producers are becoming poorer and poorer.

We think that three things need to be done. First, we need to impose a quota, insuring that local shopkeepers buy a certain percentage of local rice. [Editor’s note: The ACDIC has already launched a petition calling for this.] We also need to provide subsidies to local farmers, and to promote local rice to improve its image. 

 

Nothing out of the ordinary, according to SEMRY

The FRANCE 24 Observers reached out to the director general of SEMRY, but he did not respond to our request for comment.

However, SEMRY did release a statement in response to the post by the president of the ACDIC, explaining that SEMRY had "started to store rice in its shops in Maga and Yagoua in 2017", "in preparation for the launch of […] two new machine lines" purchased by the government to “relaunch the transformation of paddy rice”. This could explain why there was so much rice stocked in the SEMRY warehouses.

However, SEMRY did not respond to the comments made by the ACDIC president about the difference in price between local rice and foreign rice, and the difficulties of rice producers.

The statement by the director general of SEMRY.

"People know that working in the rice sector isn’t profitable but many do it because they don’t have a choice"

Narcisse Guybolo, the founder of Agri-Invest, a company that supports farmers (especially rice producers), spoke the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the difficulties faced by rice producers in Cameroon.

I think the main problem is that SEMRY doesn’t support rice farmers as it should. There are about 100,000 rice producers living in the region around Yagoua and Maga. Currently, SEMRY rents these farmers just under 27,200 acres of land. SEMRY takes care of the irrigation of this land but doesn’t give the farmers information on how to use agricultural inputs or how to access new technology. Moreover, they have very little training in the commercialization of their products.

So rice producers buy their own seeds and inputs at a high price and then they don’t use the best techniques and they fall into debt.

People in this region know full well that working in the rice-producing sector isn’t profitable but many of them do it anyway because they don’t have a choice. It does represent the main economic activity in the region.

"The export of Cameroonian rice to Nigeria stopped in 2015”

Up until 2015, almost all Cameroonian rice was sold in Nigeria. But the exports stopped because of an increase in activities carried out by the terrorist group Boko Haram in the region.

Currently, the aim is to sell the rice internally. However it remains difficult to get intermediaries interested in buying and distributing this rice because it remains cheaper to import rice from abroad.


Article written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).