In Cameroon, “life has become too expensive”

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A market in Douala, January 2022.

Claudine Méné is with her” third round from the Sandaga market in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. From store to store, this 53-year-old woman with a wrinkled forehead asks about prices. “All have increased “, invariably reply the traders.

Depending on the brand, the package of 500 grams of pasta has gone from 375 CFA francs to 425 CFA francs (from 57 cents to 65 cents) or from 500 to 650 CFA francs in the last four months. And the cup of rice, which was worth 100 or 125, sells today for 150, 175 or even 200 CFA francs.

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Claudine leans against an empty counter. ” I don’t understand anything anymoresighs this mother of six, wiping her face with the edge of her long, colorful dress. Every week prices go up. Rice, oil, fish, eggs. Life has become very expensive in Cameroon. »

Customers like Claudine, Abdelaziz can’t stop seeing them parade in his store. Some even accuse him to fly. They think I’m the one who’s raising prices. What’s wrong. We also suffer”, he exclaims. In just a few months, he saw sacks of rice go from 15,000 or 19,000 to 21,000 CFA francs and more. “We have to line up. And I’m losing customers “, he observes.

“Prices have skyrocketed”

In the room next to his shop, the managers of this market, considered by some to be the biggest in Central Africa for fresh produce, met on Thursday, February 10, for their traditional weekly meeting. Sitting around the table, everyone claims to be ” affected by inflation ». « People don’t sell high for fun.”insists on specifying Jean Gédéon Mbianji Mengue, president of the Sandaga market, but because “Prices of basic necessities have galloped ».

Beside him, Victor Jatsa is ” exhausted “. This trader and farmer claims to have lost over 12 million CFA francs (over 18,300 euros) invested in growing tomatoes. He did everything he could to revive his business. But, ” the price of the fertilizer rose from 15,000 to over 25,000 CFA francs. How can we get out of this? Housewives are affected. we are affected “, he annoyed.

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According to economist Dalvarice Ngoudjou, the label waltz is mainly a consequence of the rise in prices of raw materials – especially food and agricultural inputs – in world markets, the result of a combination of factors linked to the pandemic.

This rise in prices is quickly reflected in Cameroon, which is heavily dependent on imports of many consumer products such as rice, wheat and fish. For example, the country only covers a quarter of its rice needs with local production. The rest is imported, that is, almost 320 thousand tons in the first half of 2021, an increase of 23% year on year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INS).

“Insufficient” tax relief

In a country where the guaranteed minimum wage is 36,000 CFA francs (55 euros) a month, many Cameroonians are already struggling to make ends meet. The increase in food prices, on top of other current expenditure, is therefore “unsustainable” for low-income families, says Mr. Ngoudjou.

The context is complicated for consumers and traders, but also for the food industry. Thus, on February 8, Cameroon’s milling industry group, representing 70% of the sector, suspended all wheat deliveries throughout the territory. According to the press release, this “ This reluctant measure aims to limit the extent of the losses that these companies have been registering for the past three months due to the uninterrupted and unprecedented rise in the price of wheat, their raw material ».

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« So far, we no longer have enough money to guarantee the availability of flour on the market in sufficient quantity.”explains Alfred Momo Ebongue, secretary general of the group. “We have a significant difference between our production costs given the cost price of wheat and the selling price of flour”continues, specifying that since October 2021, the sector has lost an average of 5 billion CFA francs (about 7.6 million euros) per month.

In September 2021, the group began negotiations with the Ministry of Commerce. “It’s complicated, but the government is trying to see how to help them”, guarantees a ministry official. the millers judge insufficient » the measures – in particular tax relief – taken so far by the government to support them. From now on, they require authorization from public authorities to be able to increase the 50 kg bag of flour currently sold for 19,000 CFA francs on the market by 3,000 CFA francs.

“That must change”

« It’s not to make more money, but to have enough cash flow so we can continue to buy wheat and supply the market.featured Alfred Momo Ebongue. The sustainability of our business depends on it. Some mills have already raised prices, he admits. This raises fears of a rise in the cost of baguette bread, which is officially priced at 125 CFA francs. ” Other bakers don’t even produce bread anymore… The situation is not good “, worries Jean-Claude Yiepmou Kapwa, national president of the employers’ union of Cameroonian bakers.

For Dalvarice Ngoudjou, the decline in the purchasing power of Cameroonians runs the risk of ” create a negative social climate ». « Most major revolutions around the world are driven first by basic necessities, the shopping basket. », warns the economist.

At the Madagascar market, another commercial space in the economic capital, Solange Nana, a peddler of smoked cod, tries to convince Aïcha to buy her fish. The latter, visibly upset, explains to him: your adventures » : “Apart from vegetable oil, whose price has dropped a little, everything is expensive. Every day the ration money [alimentaire] is no longer enough. If this continues, our children will starve to death. The boys will become thugs. That must change. »

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