MOST Ethno-Net publication: Africa at Crossroads


Africa at Crossroads: Complex Political Emergencies in the 21st Century,

UNESCO / ENA, 2001

Basic Needs and Resource Sarcity: Sources of Conflict in Peasant Agriculture in The Western Highlands of Cameroon 

Ajaga Nji
Ministry of Higher Education

P.O.Box 1457, Yaoundé

Tel. (237) 772 01 49  or 222 46 60

Email : ajaga nji
Hatcheu Emil Tchawe
Fac. of Arts and Human Sciences

University of Dschang, 

P.O. Box 294, Dschang, Cameroon

Tel. (237) 345 20 63


The data for this study  are derived from a synthesis of OCISCA field studies in the Bafou Observatory, near Dschang. Some of the data obtained from another study sponsored by the African Development Foundation (ADF) on "the impact of the devaluation of the CFA franc within the first 24 months following the devaluation of January 1994" are also integrated into this analysis. While this support is hereby acknowledged, the authors claim ownership of the ideas expressed in this paper.

This paper analyzes the traps and triumphs (benefits) of peasant agriculture in the Bamileke region of Cameroon after the devaluation of the CFA Franc in January 1994. Using empirical data collected between 1992 and 1994, this study shows that 1990 was the turning point in the lives of agricultural producers in Cameroon in general, and the peasant coffee producers of the Western High lands of Cameroon in particular. Commodity prices on the world market improved to the satisfaction, albeit short-lived, of producers of primary products such as cocoa and coffee.

The paper also examines the sources of conflict in peasant agriculture in Cameroon.  Almost six years after the economic crisis began to make its effects felt in Cameroon (in 1987), the economic temperature of the country changed fundamentally, entailing major shifts in the farming system of peasant cultivators in the Bamileke region of Cameroon as well. For instance, the sharp decline of producer prices for arabica coffee led to a slow process of resource re-allocation, a shift in production focus and a visible response to risk management among peasant cultivators.

In the face of a troubled and run-away economy, the government of Cameroon and international agencies tried to put in place a series of adjustment measures including the notorious Structural Adjustment Programmes. In spite of these efforts, the crisis has persisted or even gotten worse in some sectors particularly agriculture. Devaluation was seen as the last of the measures to heal the social, economic and political wounds of a nation that was crumbling under the burden of its own debts, poor management and allocation of available resources. But Cameroon’s membership in the franc zone constituted a major to devaluation because of its relatively stronger economic position compared to other members of the Monetary Union. But devaluation finally came in January 1994 with its attendant repercussions on virtually all segments of the Cameroon population.

Devaluation was expected to provide a new impetus to the economy particularly the agricultural sector which is the source of the largest share of Cameroon’s foreign earnings. But this was not the case. Liberalization of the agricultural sector was initiated without adequate institutional and policy preparation. Adaptations in agriculture began to take place. Peasants began to re-allocate scare resources away from coffee and cocoa to food crops and vegetables.

Yet, the strategies adopted by producers, businessmen and consumers were unfortunately neutralized by the negative effects of devaluation. Inflationary price increases, loss of competitiveness of traditional export crops on the world market, excessive and unprincipled taxation, government’s withdrawal of subsidies from the agricultural sector, inefficiency in the production system and social and political unrest that came with misguided democratisation, all seem to have conspired to add more salt to the farm wound.

Finally, resource scarcity, powerlessness, lack of opportunity, globalisation, the high price of farm inputs, transportation woes and worries affecting farmers, and the drastic drop in the purchasing power of Cameroonians, and poverty are seen to be sources of conflict in peasant agriculture  in Cameroon.

Key words : Devaluation, farmers, agriculture, competitiveness, price, poverty, coffee, potatoes, green beans, fertilizers, seeds.

In the rural as well as the urban areas of Cameroon, rapid economic growth is now only wishful thinking considering that Cameroon registered a growth rate of 7 % in 1982. Through the exploitation of petroleum, Cameroon achieved one of the highest annual growth rates (7 %) in Africa in 1984 and 1985. 

Just two years later, the Cameroon economy began to take a nose dive crashing at –2% growth in 1995, just one year after the devaluation of the CFA franc.  This is ironical considering that a major objective  of macro-economic policies such as devaluation is to stimulate economic growth and enhance the development of the economies of Emerging Nations.  Unfortunately, the clash of paradigms and policies is generating conflict rather than consensus in various sectors of the economies, particularly in agriculture.

Some critics believe that if the social, economic and political conflicts being fuelled by globalization persist, the Cameroon political leadership cannot shirt the blame for the country’s economic, social and political woes.  In Cameroon, many critics of the Structural  Adjustment Programmes, including members of Government, point accusing fingers  at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for Cameroon’s economic decline, particularly in the agricultural sector.  In self defence, the Cameroon Government on its part, lays the blame at the door steps of peasants themselves.

Unfortunately, the peasantry in Cameroon seems to have been inadequately prepared to face the challenges posed by the economic and political turbulence the country has known so far following the devaluation of the Franc CFA, the salary cuts in the Public Service, and a nascent private sector that was forced to come down on its knees by what turned out to be unimaginative, inward-looking macro economic and social  policies.

Meanwhile, the inflation rate and Balance of Trade indicators  perceived as favourable by some of Cameroon’s international partners in the first half of 1996 gave signs of the likelihood of take-off for the Cameroon economy. The GNP growth rate  of 2.7 % between 1994 and 1995) as indicated by the French Cooperation, after many years of slumber were further signs of hope for some, but not for the growing impoverishment of urban and rural populations (Nji, 1994), the rise in external and national debt of the State, the collapse of Cameroon currency reserves, and the constant drop in exports (World Bank, 1995).

Five years of observation of the effects of  Structural Adjustment Policies and devaluation of the FCFA in the coffee sector of the West Province show very clearly the degree of intra-group and inter group conflicts that have either developed or accelerated as a the peasant producers struggle to allocate scarce resources between survival needs and the cultivation of export crops such as coffee, cocoa and cotton.

Materials and methods
The objective of the study was to determine the  level and impact  of conflicts on the farm  arising from resource scarcity and globalisation as farmers coped with the allocation of scarce resources. 

Two types of methodological tools were used to collect data for this study : A sample survey using questionnaires and panel discussion techniques. A total of 408 farmers were surveyed representing four principal crops grown in the Bamileke farming system distributed as follows : 147 arabica coffee farmers, 99 green beans farmers, 79 potato producers and 83 raphia palm wine producers and sellers.

The questionnaires were administered between June and September 1995. Most of the primary and secondary data were collected between January 1994 and December 1995. The data do not take into account any changes that might have occurred after January 1996. The survey took place in the villages of Bafou, Bamendjou, Bangang, Bamongoum and Bandjoun for the arabica coffee producers, Bangang, Balessing, Bameka, Famchuet and Bandjoun for green beans farmers, Bafou, Bangang and Galim for potato growers and Bana and Dschang for raphia palm wine producers and sellers.

Producers were selected according to the importance of the crops in their annual  farm income. We also took into account the changes that have occurred in the international market for arabica coffee and green beans.
A cursory view of farmer behaviour following the structural changes revealed that peasants were adopting various  mechanisms to cope with the the economic conflicts on the farm and the social and political conflicts that ensued. 

For example,  peasants began to revert to alternative crops and farming systems in order to cope with the scarcity of financial resources and reduced returns in the commodity markets.  Thus, potato cultivation and the  raphia palm wine  harvesting were included in the study because these two activities were increasingly being adopted as alternative sources of income for the farmers in the region.  The villages were selected on the basis of production capacity for one or several of the crops included in the study.

Some quantitative data from the OCISCA survey are also included in the present analysis. OCISCA is the French acronym for Observatory for Social Change and Innovations in Cameroon. The French-sponsored OCCISCA project was located on the campus of the University of Dschang  with the primary mission of obtaining information that could be shared with policy-makers and farmers on adaptations to the economic crisis in Cameroon. The OCISCA data bank is generated from interviews with 4083 respondents from 350 families and households in Bafou, between 1993 and 1995.

Qualitative analysis is based on discussions with supervisors in charge of the production and marketing of green beans and coffee in a Cameroonian-owned production firm called PROLEG, located in Bandjoun, about 60 km from Dschang. A number of panel discussions were held with potato and raphia palm wine producers.

Effects of devaluation of the CFA Franc on agricultural prices
Prices paid to coffee and cocoa producers took the direction least expected by monetary economists: a nose dive.  One of the economics assumptions of devation is that such a fiscal policy would increase exports of the country whose currency has been devalued.  But commonsense suggests that exports would increase  as a function of demand.  And demand itself is influenced by several factors, key among them being the quality of the product, and the policy environment of the exporting currency.

Several factors influenced the determination of these prices, namely :
i) Trade within and outside of the Franc Trade Zone ; and 

ii) the organization and/or planning of production and commercialization of agricultural production in Cameroon.

It is important to note that coffee and cocoa have been traditional sources of foreign exchange for Cameroon while green beans and potatoes are emerging cash crops adopted as n economic and social safety net by peasant cultivators in the region.  The new-found taste and preference for raphia palm wine instead of beer was actually fuelled by a political crisis.

The Social Democratic Front (SDF) which is the major opposition party in Cameroon masterminded a nationwide boycott of  the products of the French Brewery, Brasseries du Cameroun.  While the conflict campaign enabled Guinness Cameroon S.A. to amass wealth as beer consumers turned to them instead of Brasseries du Cameroun, other Cameroonians also turned to local brews such as raphia palm wine and corn to quench their thirsts.

These phenomena staged a perfect take-off for unprecedented political, economic and social conflicts in Cameroon from 1990-93 by indirectly changing consumer preferences, tastes and habits.  A  lasting source of conflict between industrial brewers and local alcoholic producers on the one hand, and between food crop and cash crop producers had ignited.

Arabica coffee prices have improved remarkably  in 1993/94 and 1994/95 coffee seasons as a result of  the liberalization of the coffee sub-sector. The prices paid to farmers were 825 FCFA per kiloggramme in 1993/1994 and 1000 FCFA/kg in 1994/1995. In some purchasing areas, private buyers offered 1200 FCFA/kg. 

The short-term benefits of  liberalization in the coffee sector, accrued to  a few traditional farmers who continued to have faith in agriculture, in spite of the crisis. As for the majority of small farmers, they were certain that the high price of coffee on the Commodity Market was just be a transient phenomenon, given the instability of world market prices (Calabre, 1995).
 In reaction to this uncertainty,  farmers did not increase their production levels as  was expected because of aging plantations and insufficient investment in the coffee sector. Even as the Government urged farmers to nurture instead of abandoning their coffee  farms for food crops, the State apparatus did very little to encourage farmers with inputs such as credit, fertilizers and extension. 

Ironically, a sitting Cabinet Minister who was queried at a Press Conference for the non-availability of fertilizer in Cameroon as late as April one year, replied that “it is not important when the fertilizer gets to the farmer.  What is important is whether it finally gets to them”.  The response only helped to fuel the on-going conflict between peasants and the dominant urban elite.

In the meantime the  short-lived rise in international coffee prices was attributed to a number of key factors :
1. The mechanical effects  that were to be felt, of the devaluation of the CFA franc, one year after the devaluation;

2. A policy of protectionism that was practiced by the Association of Coffee producing Countries (ACPC) during the period;

3. The effects of frost and particularly drought in Brazil

4. The return of merchants to commodity markets following the drop in the stocks of consumer countries.

As coffee prices dropped, peasants began to look elsewhere for survival and subsistence.    Peasants began to cultivate green beans which in response to a new export market  that was developing in Europe.  The response from peasants was so so positive that green beans quickly became the second export product of the West Province.

Initially, farmers were receiving 110 FCFA/kg before devaluation.  When farmers discovered that their produce was fetching more money on the international market, they  organized a passive farm revolt that earned them a nominal increase of 33 % (from 110 FCFA/Kg to 145 FCFA/kg) for the "extra fine" quality.

This price change was still insignificant considering that the CFA was devalued by 50 % in 1994.  In the meantime the exporters were reaping substantially more money from the business green beans sold on the international market during the same period a healthy price between 1800 FCFA and 2200 FCFA per kg (Table 1).

Table 1 : trends in the price of green bean prices on the Rungis in 1995 (en CFA/Kg)

Burkuna Faso 










































What is embarrassing about these figures is that whereas the world price for green beans ranged from 1800 Fr./KG to 2200 CFA in 1995, the price paid to producers in Cameroon was only 145 FCFA. This is only 8% of the minimum price paid to the exporter in the international market. This explains why some of the green bean contract farmers began to call for more buyers to enter the local market on the assumption that in a free market economy, new actors in the business will create an atmosphere for competition and better prices for farmers’ produce.
The problems and conflicts imposed on the demand and supply sides as already discussed are further complicated by unfriendly fiscal policies.  The Cameroon Government has increased export taxes and excise in order to augment National Revenue and satisfy the demands of international donors for fiscal reform.

The propensity to tax manifested by the government of Cameroon greatly stifles the rural sector and negates the expected benefits of devaluation. The consequence is that the high price of agricultural products tends to benefit urban retailers and middlemen than the primary producers (Cogneau and Herrera, 1995).

The authors note from empirical published data as well as from the personal assessments of farmers in the area that momentary rise in the prices of primary products during 1994 did not make any significant impacts on the farmer. Rather, the price increases herald inflation and unjust competition of imports, intra-group and inter-village conflicts. 

For example, most of Cameroon’s best lands have under coffee, cocoa, banana, palms and rubber in plantain agriculture.  Peasants who were the original owners of the land (such  the Bakweris in the South-West Province) began landless labourers in CDC and Pamol Plantations.  Without enough land left for food crop production, they have been forced to squat on whatever empty space is available within the plantations in order to grow the food they need to feed their families.

This situation has been the source of conflicts between the Plantation owners/managers and the natives cum labourers.  Not only have the labourers been forced to be beggars on their own land, they have been obliged by changing economic circumstances to adopt coping mechanisms such as land reclamation, contract farming and sharecropping just to stay afloat.

Strongly promoted and encouraged by Public Policy for its foreign exchange earning capacity, plantain agriculture brought with it untold suffering, social, economic and political conflicts.    And these relationships change with the changing economic and political environment. Land ownership and land use patterns change and lead in turn to changes in attitudes and living conditions.

In a Participatory Poverty Assessment Report of  the South West Province of Cameroon (1994), it was noticed that the pattern of land use pattern that dominates the Province has greatly contributed to a lot of social instability.  A land owner turned landless labourer described the situation vividly:
“In some areas, so much land has been sold that the natives have become landless…  I only have the land on which my house is built.  All land has been sold to ‘grafi’…Everywhere there are strangers.” 

Another respondent reported that someone had sold all his land in the face of the economic and social conflicts of the pro-democracy years (1990-94) that when he died, there was no place left on which to bury him.

One of the coping mechanisms of displaced persons is for them to squat on State Property.   When illegal occupation occurs as it often does in the Coastal Provinces of Cameroon which have been dominated by plantation agriculture, forceful eviction and conviction is the solution often adopted by the State to repossess “its property”.    This contributes to the vicious circle of  conflict and poverty that Cameroon has been going through since the collapse of the Commodity Market in 1987, fuelled by negative politics (Ngwa et al., 1994).

Demand substitution is another coping mechanism that has been adopted by peasants during the period of social, economic and political upheavals being described.  Consumers substituted palm wine for beer and changed their eating habits in respond to high food prices following devaluation..

As a substitute to beer, raphia palm wine increased in popularity.  Its price jumped from 50 FCFA  to 150 FCFA per litre. Yet, it is not certain that the palm wine dealers are maximizing their profits even though the price of a bottle of beer rose from 250 CFA to 325 FCFA after devaluation.

The good news, however, is that, the importation and consumption of French liquors and champagnes in Cameroon has dropped by more than 50% since 1990. Although the price of beer per 65 centilitre bottle rose by 8,3% in the second half of 1995, the price of raphia palm wine has remained constant at 150 FCFA/litre throughout the year (See table 2). 

Table 2 Trends in the price of raphia palm wine and beer in Bafoussam in 1995

Raphia palm Wine































Source : Structural Adjustment Support Unit (CAAS, Yaoundé).

The mild turbulence in the price structure of beer and raphia palm wine is also translated in a mild but fervent conflict between palm wine tapers and beer retailers in most of the villagers studied.  Most beer parlors openly assaulted palm wine sellers who brought their goods too close to their shops.

In one situation witnessed by one of the authors of this article, a beer parlour manager forcefully overturned a 10 litre of palm wine that had been bought by a group of young men;  Their sin as that they were drinking the palm wine in the shop owner’s beer parlour.  A major fight ensued that sent two people to hospital with fatal wounds.

Palm wine has become so competitive with coffee that school drop outs and returning migrants from Cameroon’s depressed and depressing cities are increasingly investing time and money in the regeneration and maintenance of raphia farms instead of coffee plantations as in the past.  The positive benefits of economic conflicts are yield positive social results.

Fifty eight percent of a purposive sample interviewed reported that raphia palm wine was their main occupation and first source of income. Each producer reported to be tapping an average of seven raphia stems to obtain a daily production of five litres worth 750 francs CFA. 

Corruption and Conflict Generation
The situation is different with respect to other foodstuffs such as potatoes the price of which keeps falling in the production regions of the West and North West provinces. The drop in the purchasing power of local consumers, increases in transportation costs and the effects of devaluation conspire to negatively impact on the production and sale of potatoes. Price variation on the main markets of the Province between 1992 and 1995 was 60% for a 50 kg bag (Table 3). These fluctuations are influenced by the devaluation of the CFA franc as well as marketing problems faced by farmers such as transportation and corruption..

From panel discussions held with groups of farmers, they revealed that apart from the legal taxes they pay, they lose a lot of money in the corruption machine of highway patrols. The farmers estimate that for a 12 ton truck loaded with fresh fruit or other foodstuffs to Gabon, they can spend as much as 400,000 CFA (about US$700) in legal fees and illegal charges.

A similar trip to N’Djamena, Chad would cost 50,000 CFA more (i.e. 540,000 CFA). The truckers and farmers call this kinds of money "wild tax" because they believe that it is illegally collected from them by a multiplicity of "civilized armed robbers on the highway" (i.e. policemen, gendarmes, customs and sanitary control officials).  These habits are fraught with interpersonal conflict (farmer vs policeman or gendarme) and inter-group conflict (farmers vs bureaucrats or government people).

Table 3 : Price and average production for potatoes before and after the devaluation of the CFA franc  in the West Province in 1996.

Price (CFA) 
Production in 50 kg bags
Before devaluation
After devaluation

Source : Questionnaire data based on responses from 79 potato producers.

The marketing of food crops and vegetables in Cameroon is hindered by the problem of transportation and high taxation on the one hand, and the weak purchasing power of the urban dwellers on the other hand.

Along with the "wild tax", civil servants got up one sad morning in 1993 to be told on the radio that their salaries were to be slashed by 70 % beginning that month. In the meantime, the salaries of the military, para-military, the police and Posts and Telecommunications workers were to remain untouched even if such an announcement were not made.

This form of institutional discrimination invariably build led to inter-group and interpersonal conflicts, and a feeling of relative deprivation between civil various groups of civil servants and within the same corps of  Cameroon’s Civil Service.

Salary cuts and devaluation of the franc CFA are responsible for the continuous erosion of the economic power of Cameroonians. Cogneau and Herrera, (1995) describe the salary cuts as in Cameroon as "paralleled" compared to what happened in other countries of the franc zone after the devaluation of the CFA. In fact, in all the other countries within the same economic zone, salaries and wages were adjusted upwards to cushion off the effects of devaluation. Coupled with 50 % inflation rate, the purchasing power of consumers is down to 20 % of December 1992 prices !

The World Bank poverty study (1995) showed that the consumption rate per head in Yaounde was less than 10% of the 1964 level. The Participatory Poverty Assessment (Nji, 1994) which was a component of the World Bank study revealed that Cameroonians were up for sale because, in the words of a female respondent in the nation’s capital during the interview"…we have nothing else left to sell…except our bodies".

In the face of these realities, we are tempted to wonder whether or not the Structural Adjustment Programmes as were interpreted and eventually implemented in Cameroon by the Cameroonian leaders achieved their desired objectives, particularly in the agricultural sector. It could be said that one of the achievement of these Programmes has been to make poor farmers poorer and increase conflict relationships that already exists between peasant cultivators and urban consumers.

The Challenge of competitiveness and globalisation
For many countries in the franc zone, positive financial impacts were expected from the devaluation of the CFAF. For the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, devaluation was expected to re-establish the competitiveness of exports to enable them regain the market quotas they had lost due to the over-valuation of CFAF. 

The second main objective of devaluation was to reverse the terms of exchange in favour of the rural world. The effects of these actions on the coffee and cocoa sub-sectors can be taken only half-heartedly even if the increase in the volume of green bean exports seems to have brought transient hope to farmers in the region and in the country.

Furthermore, devaluation works in favour of producer if they can increase exports. Increased export trade itself depends on competitiveness determined by quality, price and demand.   For countries such as Cameroon, the quality and price of commodities such as coffee and cocoa  depend on the value-added to those commodities. 

Yet, the Cameroon farmer has been asked to export more in order to reap the benefits of devaluation without any value added to cocoa and coffee beans. On the contrary, the quality of these commodities has systematically dropped within the last ten years due to ageing plantations poor drying methods and unethical marketing behaviours. (Nji, 1998) .

Obituary on Cameroon Coffee
Even as farmers struggle on their coffee and cocoa farms, the obituary of Cameroon coffee is being announced. This announcement disregards the fact that even after the devaluation, the agricultural sector remains pivotal to the overall economic development of Cameroon, in comparison to the performance of a stagnant manufacturing sector . Under normal circumstances, the obituary should draw the attention of Cameroon policy makers to the need to give oxygen to the agricultural sector to revive it for the revitalization of rural communities (Nji, 1981).

With respect to arabica coffee, the progressive drop in the volume of coffee sold through UCCAO (Union Centrale des Coopératives Agricoles de l’Ouest) which groups five Arabica Marketing Cooperatives in the Bamileke region suggests that part of the coffee crop is being sold to private exporters.

Although many of the Licensed Buying Agents are paying higher prices to producers than UCCAO, it does not follow that these private buyers care at all about the quality of the coffee they buy. As a result, low grade coffee from Cameroon ends up on the international coffee market. 

This is partly responsible for the sharp drop in the demand for Cameroon coffee abroad. One of the causes of the low quality of Cameroon coffee is poor or ineffective and inefficient quality control at the port of shipment. Private businessmen are more interested in increasing the quantity of the coffee they are able to market than in its quality.

A one time importer of Cameroon coffee in 1995 (personal communication) told one of the authors of this article that the low demand for Cameroon cocoa on the European market was due to three factors : i) the poor overall quality of the produce ; ii) the dark colour of cocoa, and iii) the small size of cocoa beans.

Our investigations in Cameroon at a later date reveal that poor drying methods and smoky ovens are responsible for the colour of Cameroon cocoa ; the small bean size is the effect of ageing plantations. Poor quality is the result of inefficient Produce Inspection at the Port of Douala – where corruption is said to be rife. In our view, the same problems that could the cocoa market can be generalized to the coffee enterprise which shares the same characteristics and resources with cocoa.

Before devaluation, UCCAO differentiated its coffee into three categories : Grade I, grade II and "Un-graded". Whereas Cameroon arabica coffee was faring well in the World Market up to August 1995, it lost its competitiveness just one month later. This drop in both price and quality (as shown in figure 2) still persists to this day, to the detriment of the Cameroon Farmer. The price gap is seen to be widening between Cameroon coffee and that of Brazil, Colombia and Kenya.

The question that arises is whether the so-called liberalization of the coffee sector and government withdrawal of subventions to the agricultural sector in Cameroon were good policies. We feel that the Cameroon Farmer is paying the price for bad policies formulated and enforced by an uninformed and unresponsive bureaucracy that is far removed from the realities of the farmers and the agriculture sector.

Even though the Government persistently lays the blame for poor performance in the agricultural sector at the door steps of the farmer, some analysts are more apt to point an accusing finger at the new emerging businessmen with an insatiable thirst for quick cash. They carry a fair share of the blame also, for what observers describe as their lack of professionalism, inexperience in the commodity market, and infatuation with a misguided sense of well-being based on greed and corruption.

The effects of conflict on the market place
An important outcome of conflict in the market place is the shift it provokes in the reallocation of resources and the interface between demand and supply.  Thus, the reallocation of resources  that took place on peasant farms in response to market decline in coffee and cocoa prices was soon translated into low production.

Thus, it was noticed that Cameroon coffee represented only 3.7 % of the arabica coffee on the World Coffee Market in 1990 as opposed to 26.1 % for Brazil and 18.2 % for Colombia. Consequently, Cameroon ceased to be one of the “big arabica coffee exporters” that it used to be. 

With regard to quality, since Cameroon arabica coffee does not possess any of the internationally  known aroma or taste, it is now classified among the "other soft types".  Cameroon coffee can now be seen to be playing only a supportive role on the World market. 

It is more frequently used in blending relatively less flavoured coffee. This explains why on the New York commodity market for example, speculators often wait for Brazilian and Colombian production results before they start negotiations over whatever coffee there is coming from Cameroon farms.

The decline in arabica coffee production in the West Province of Cameroon may be directly related to the sharp drop in producer prices, from 450 FCFA/kg in the 1989/1990 season to 250 FCFA/KG in the 1990/1991 season. This represents a drop of 47 %. During the same period, production fell from 10.000 tons to 8.000 tons.

Meanwhile, market gardening with a better market potential also picked up during the same period in the region. At first sight, one might think that the shortage of, or the high cost of inputs such as fertilizer  are to blame for the low production. This is not likely to be the case.

Considering that while the West Province absorbs 1/3 of fertilizer consumption in Cameroon, the province has not succeeded in improving average coffee yields which now stand at 250 Kg/ha during peak production years. The Cameroon government believed that devaluation was going to bail out the agricultural sector. But as the results show, devaluation alone was not enough to give the Cameroon coffee economy the dynamism  it needed for its revival and survival.

Much more was required to complement the macro policies. A micro policy vacuum still exists in most sectors in Cameroon, particularly in agriculture. Lack of sustainable incentives to farmers, the chronic problems of the price and shortage of inputs, lack of agricultural credit, poor extension, little farmer education and un-discriminatory and untargeted policies are major and chronic obstacles to the development of peasant agriculture. 

Thus, for a long time to come, the International Coffee Market will remain dominated by producers who possess better comparative advantages, indigenous capabilities and dynamism in coffee production. These countries include Brazil, Equator, Columbia, Costa-Rica, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Indonesia and Vietnam.

In the meantime, the Cameroon Farmer is directing scarce production resources elsewhere in a rational response to a world characterized by inevitable race of globalization. Food crops and vegetables are braising up to be the winners in the race. Green beans in particular are emerging as an economically important export crop for Cameroon. 

For example, the price for Cameroon green beans has remained stable on the Rungis vegetable market in France. Consequently, the two main producers of green beans located in the Western province (PROLEG and UCCAO) took steps to increase its production.   In the 1994/1995 season, PROLEG production estimates stood at 1400 tons against 800 tons in the previous season. For the 1995/1996 season, the  production figure was 3000 tons.

Of winners and losers
The price structure in agricultural commodities determines the winners from the losers.   Experience shows that the losers are usually the poor small farmers while the winners are usually the large rich farmers.  The temporal increase in coffee prices was not beneficial to all producers. Only large farmers, roughly 5% of the 147 coffee producers interviewed, acknowledged having derived financial benefits from the un-sustained coffee price increases.

However, the producers reported that incomes obtained from the coffee business have not been reinvested in coffee. Most of that money went for children’s education, payment of current debts and improvement of family housing. In Bafou village, 10 km on the outskirts of Dschang in the West Province, coffee farmers reported that farm income was used to satisfy basic needs rather than reinvested in coffee farms (see table 5).  This demonstrates the importance of safety nets in peasant agriculture and how peasants try to cope with structural conflict on the farm. 


Table 5 : Structure of family expenditure in Bafou, Cameroon in 1995

Nature of expenditure Amounts (CFAF)
Volume (%)
23 839 355
22 776 985
22 589 445
Household budget
18 397 995
12 927 685
2 823 950
12 675 120
116 519 535

Source : OCISCA sampling in 316 households in Bafou, 1995.

Asked who controlled the family farm income, all the respondents replied that the male head of household was the all-time “Manager of the family budget” even though in some households, 50-80% of the income was produced by the women and children.

Conflicts often arose in the allocation of the family budget.  Women complained that their burdens are often almost doubled when it is recognized that they produce most of the food that comes to the family table, take major responsibility for primary health care in the family, and buy several of the kitchen utensils.  For example, 65% of the females interviewed in the sample reported that they contribute more than 50% of the food and household budgets.

Transport was unanimously identified as a constant source of  conflict in the families interviewed.  In a country where farm-to-market roads are scarce and those that are available impassable for nearly half of the year, transportation of  inputs to the farms, and of farm produce to the home and market is a serious problem.

Most of the transportation of crops is by head load and almost all travel to the farms and the market is by trekking.  And since the women produce most of the food, the burden to bring the farm produce home usually falls on their heads and shoulders.  Women complained that their husband are often reluctant to invest in transportation technologies such as push carts and vehicles even if they can afford them; simply because they will be used by the women.  But if the men have to use the equipment, the decision to invest in motorized equipment is not usually hard to make --- since the men hold the purse strings.

It was found that farm decision-making was usually the source of conflict in farm families and that the rate of conflict rose with devaluation of the CFA and the settling of poverty that crept  in the Cameroon society in 1987.  Increased divorce rates, child insubordination, lack of parental respect from, and control over children, female prostitution and urban crime were found to be positively associated with poverty in both the rural and urban families in Cameroon (Nji, 1994).  Thus, conflict has been found to feed on penury and poverty, and persist where these social and economic ills prevail.

Scarcity : The seed of conflict
Land scarcity, high demand for food and competing value systems generate and exacerbate conflict in agricultural communities.  It is estimated that 17% of the total Cameroon population live in the West Province, which represents only 3% of the total land area of the national territory. The pressure of population growth on scarce land resources in the Province has led to land conflicts, within families and between families and villages, to continuous tillage of farm land, and no or little fallow. The exploitation of inland valleys and swamps has been on the increase (Hatcheu, 1993). The crops that grow in the valleys are food crops and vegetables with little application of soil and water conservation techniques.

The phenomenal growth of urban agriculture in the Province within the last decade point to the impacts of demographic pressure on physical resources, particularly land on the one hand, and the drop in the purchasing power of Cameroonians, following the large salary cuts of 1993 on the other hand (Saounde 2000).

As Saounde further notes, "In the face of multiple problems imposed by the deteriorating Cameroonian economy and rising urban population growth, city dwellers are increasing turning to other sources of income-generation such as trade in used clothing, and urban agriculture (Saounde, 2000 : 2).

The consequence of resource scarcity and unplanned urban growth is that soil fertility has decreased and erosion continues to be a permanent threat to most of the land.  This tendency tends to reinforce ethnic & tribal conflicts. This also explains why food crop  production has been in stiff competition with coffee and cocoa in our villages.   For instance, our studies of peasants in the Bafou chiefdom show a drop in household income from arabica coffee  by more than 100% (from 37% of global 1991 figures to 17% in 1993).

Taking cognisance of the profound changes that Cameroon’s agricultural system has been going through since the beginning of the economic recession which started in 1987, we note that there is considerable dissonance between the preoccupations of International Financial and Funding Agencies, political leaders and the aspirations and motivations of farmers. 

Coping Mechanisms in situations of conflict
The peasant cultivator tends to see the problem from the perspective of opportunity, complementarity  and survival, particularly in the light of shrinking agricultural land. Even in the face of calls for birth control by Family Planning Organizations, Government policy on reproductive health is not being taken seriously by the peasants.

On the contrary, average family size in the region is increasing as farm size shrinks. Land seems to be the real weapon which can be used to fight birth control in the region, as the farmers are beginning to recognize that more children mean less land for agriculture or construction.. For this reason, the people are adopting a number of coping mechanisms. First, families are sharing the available land to potential heirs. 

Secondly, land owners are cultivating available land to the optimum, using available technologies including chemical fertilizer whenever feasible. (Hatcheu, 1993). Land  ownership is recognized as  vital to sustainability in  the agricultural system in the region, to the extent that, of the 316 farmers studied in 1994, 78% reported that they owned the land the were cultivating.

In the face of these diverse, conflict-ridden and competing factors (land, prices, basic needs) it has been noticed that the needs of farmers are not necessarily, identical to those of political leaders, and even those of International Funding Agencies. Whilst some policy makers advocate the diversification of agricultural exports, others think that arabica coffee should move to ecological regions where land problems and population pressure are less severe. This is a naive view of agriculture and agro-climatological zones.

The positive effects of farm politics & conflicts
The family is considered the most important social value in the Bamileke region, taking precedence over work, money and friends (Nji, 1987). Within a system of cultural values that places strong emphasis on the family, it can only be expected that limited resources will be rationed in such way that family needs are satisfied first, if only to guarantee the very survival of the family and its members.

The short-term rise in coffee prices, immediately after the devaluation of the CFAF was not enough to detract food producers, particularly the youths and women who dominate the food sector in Cameroon. In the face of persistent misery, social obligations, particularly in the family compel agriculturists in the region to find innovative ways and means to sustain the family and guarantee a minimum quality of life for its members. Agricultural diversification is one of the ways used by cultivators in this region to increase family incomes.  Conflict and scarcity having been the mother of diversification.

Families are able to do this within the present economic context of limited opportunities by weighing and judiciously allocating scarce resources between food crops and coffee production. The cultural obligation to satisfy the needs of the family for food and shelter also obliges individuals to supply food and basic necessities to relatives living in urban areas whether they are gainfully employed or not. This is a strong deterrent to waste on the farm and an important force which pushes rural people to strive for technological innovativeness on the farm, in order to increase agricultural production and consequently their incomes.

In this dynamic, the youth (more girls and young women than men) are the principal actors and beneficiaries. They are the ones in greatest need for resources and are constantly on the move. And since they lack the resources (especially, money, land) and power (economic, political & social), youth tend to be the greatest losers in the prevailing conflict relationships settling in rural communities.

The active participation of the youths, small holders and women in this process is not by accident. Young secondary school graduates and reverse (urban-rural) migrants move into food crop production. In the words of one farmer, "if you cannot sell the food, you can at least eat it ; but if you cannot sell your coffee, even basic morality stops you from using it as cooking fuel".

The farmers are quite aware of the problems on the international market for traditional export crops such as coffee and cocoa even if their policy makers withhold the truth from them. Farmers told the authors that they were aware of the instability of prices on the international market; they complain of the long production cycle for coffee (3 to 5 years), low prices and lack of adaptability of coffee by products in the diet of the vast majority of Cameroonians.    It must be noted that Cameroonians  do not drink  as much coffee and cocoa  as would be expected, even as Cameroon is a producer of good quality coffee.

Satisfaction of basic needs or increase income?
Much economic theory has honed income generation as the main reason why farmers adopt new technologies.  But it has been noticed that peasants re-examine their lives in the context of basic needs, their survival and the future of their children (Nji, 1981).  Therefore, because of the obvious financial benefits in the food sector, the short production cycles for food crops and vegetables, farmers in the West Province of Cameroon are reported to have uprooted coffee trees to plant food crops in their place.

The money they earn from the sale of food crops enables them to finance major expenditures in the community and family such as to education, business, agriculture and community improvement. Corn, beans, potatoes and cabbage are the four major crops produced as alternatives to coffee.   Also cultivated in the area is a wide variety of exotic vegetables including leeks, carrots, parsley, sweet peppers and green beans. These are grown for local consumption as well as for export. 

High producer prices for export vegetables, particularly after devaluation of the CFAF, have also contributed to increase interest in their production. The creation of border markets with neighbouring countries such as Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria have come to reinforce this trend and provide income earning opportunities for Cameroon vegetable growers.

How conflict can rekindle interest in Indigenous Knowledge
The effects of  conflict  are not always negative.  Conflict can bring about positive changes in human societies by modifying relationships and value systems.   In the agricultural sector, the scarcity of production resources can re-order values, re-kindle old positive habits and attitudes and create new positive relationships.   The scarcity of fertiliser demonstrates a positive aspect of conflict, particularly as concerns innovativeness.

Between December 1993 and October 1995 the price of a fifty kilogram bag of chemical fertilizer (NPK 20-10-10 or urea) rose from 3,500 to 10,500 CFAF in various cooperative shops, and to 12,500 FCFA on the commercial market. This represents a price increase of more than 300% within two years. 

Despite measures taken by the Cameroon Fertilizer Program to make chemical fertilisers available on the local market, peasant cultivators have been unable to afford fertilisers. As a result, there has been noticeable increase in the use of organic fertilisers such as compost, household waste and animal manure. The price structure of chemical fertilizer and animal manure used between 1992 and 1995 by 147 farmers in Bafou, Bagang, Bamendjou, and Bandhoun villages in the West Province is shown in table 6.


Table 6 : Average quantity of fertilizer used and price per farmer in selected villages in the West Province of Cameroon between 1992 and 1995

Chicken manure
Number of 50 Kg bags
Price (CFAF) per bag
Number of 50 Kg bags
Price (CFAF) per bag

Source : Questionnaire data

The increase in the price of chicken manure in 1994 reflects the price  pattern in Cameroon following the devaluation of 1994.  The price of everything from cocoyams to cars noticed considerable hikes. This has quickened the pace of the inflation spiral which characterized the Cameroon economy over the past 10 years.

In other respects, the increase in the use of chicken manure (21 bags in 1995 as against 14 in 1994 and 18 in 1993) was the peasants’ rational reaction to the rise in the price of chemical fertilisers. However the switch to chicken manure seemed to have been  only a transitional coping mechanism, as 95% of the 147 producers interviewed stated that they would like to increase their consumption of chemical fertiliser in the future, if they had the funds to buy it.

Effect of price on Crop Protection Products
There has been decreased use of crop protection  products during the same period as shown in table 7.


Table 7 : Trends in the price (constant) and quantities of some pesticides between 1992 and 1995 

Year / Product a Cacaobre Dacobre Manezan Rydomil
1992 Quantity 
Price FCFA
86 sachets 
68 sachets 
13 kg 
10 kg 
1993 Quantity 
Price FCFA
86 sachets 
56 sachets 
10 kg 
8 kg 
1994 Quantity 
Price FCFA
51 sachets 
34 sachets 
4 kg 
4 kg 
1995 Quantity 
Price FCFA
33 sachets 
26 sachets 
5 kg 
3 kg 

Source : Survey data (1995)

It is important to note that while in the recent past,  these products were distributed by UCCAO free to the farmers, the user-rate for them after devaluation and liberalization dropped significantly. As can be seen from table 7, the quantity of crop protection products used by the 147 farmers studied dropped significantly between 1992 and 1995. Perhaps because of the high price, it is common to see stocks of expired products on the shelves of farm inputs shops. As can be expected, benefits that would accrue to farmers from the devaluation of the CFAF were obfuscated by increases in input prices.

Lack of resources, denial of opportunity and powerlessness as sources of conflict
The intensification of mixed cropping on small farms, which characterizes the Bamileke traditional agriculture poses the problem of lack of high yielding seed varieties. Despite the rise in prices on the international market, it was impossible for most of the farmers to increase their income because of low yields. Agricultural systems tend to stagnate where  innovativeness is weak and sluggish.  Peasant agriculture in Cameroon is an example of an environment where technological innovation is slow to occur.

This concerns the scarcity of improved planting materials, the slow pace in  which agricultural  technology (high yielding varieties, improved breeds, modern farm machinery, improved management practices and invigorating agricultural policies) are adopted. 

Cameroon’s agricultural strategy does not seem to go far enough to match words with action.  What is needed in the 21st Century is concrete action, a move from vision to action than mere rhetoric.    Aggressive agricultural research, positive approaches to farmer  training and education and an enabling policy environment can contribute to  reducing poverty which itself is a major source of conflict.  Conflict between the poor and the rich, conflict between land owners and the landless, conflict between food crop producers and cattle graziers, conflict  based on unequal opportunities created by gender inequality (Nji and Harshbarger, 1991).

One way to resolve these conflicts in rural areas is to give the people voice and by building genuine democratic societies.  In the agricultural sector, peasants must organize to build economic and political power.  In urban areas, the poor must be given equal opportunity to access to education, work and social services.  Unfortunately, both the political climate and economic forces in most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa  do not yet provide a fertile ground for the germination of the seeds of dynamic and powerful peasant organizations.

The Limits to Economic Opportunity
Access to credit and a steady source of income greatly increase the chances of survival and the happiness of individuals and communities.  Membership in organizations is still limited to family associations and localized Loan and Thrift Clubs or rotating savings banks commonly known as "tontines". 

These loan and thrift association are often based on mutual relationships, shared values, goals and geographical location. About 22% of  178 green bean or potatoes farmers interviewed in the West Province  in 1997 were members of a peasant association. Approximately 13% of those who did belong to any association did not even intend to join one in the near future unless their membership would enable them to resolve conflict situations that existed on their farms . Other reasons that would motivate them to join a peasant association were :
? Easy access to inputs as reported by 85% of the potatoes producers interviewed ;

? Increased farm labour for 39% of green bean farmers interviewed.

Even after these conditions are made, it is obvious that other areas of conflict will remain to be addressed.  For example, quality control, price, transportation, farm decision-making etc.  These aspects often lead to conflict between producers and consumers, conflicts between the police and transporters, conflicts between policy makers and peasants, etc.

The main objective of the devaluation of the CFAF was to re-establish the competitiveness of the franc zone and to promote exports. In the particular case of Cameroon, the aim was to recover the coffee, cocoa and cotton markets which have been lost to Asian and Latin American competitors over the past years. 

In the West Province of Cameroon, such factors as the age of farmers, farm size, scarcity of arable land and the high price of inputs are responsible for the decline of the agricultural sector.  Some of these factors have conspired to create situations of conflict between the stake holders in Cameroon’s agricultural system.

The burdens imposed by lack of inputs such as  poor quality seeds, high prices of fertilisers and lack of competitiveness on the international market are obstacles to be removed through appropriate agricultural policies if  peasant economies are to survive in this Era of globalization. Also, since higher taxes have enabled the state to accumulate considerable fiscal income, it is strongly desired that some of the money can be funnelled back to farmers at the grassroots by way of agricultural support.

The revival of agricultural production in the West Province of Cameroon must take into account the imbalance between demographic pressures and the social and economic conflicts that inequality and lack of opportunity create. For peasant cultivators, increased output is meaningless unless it is translated into more concrete terms : survival, stability and sustainability of farm families and the family farms, and the overall happiness of the peasant.

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© The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.

© Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cet article sont celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.