Cameroon Declared to Have Achieved Millennium Development Goal 1: Rhetoric or Reality?
Jaff Bamenjo, Coordinator of RELUFA, JH Cameroon
In 2000, member states of the United Nations (U.N.), in partnership with many other international organizations, officially established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight international development goals to be achieved by all 189 U.N. member states by 2015. Millennium Development Goal Number One (MDG1) seeks to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by half.
During the 38th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), held in Rome, Italy June 17-22, 2013, 38 countries were declared to have reduced hunger by half, well ahead of the international target set for 2015. Paradoxically, Cameroon features among the 38 countries that are considered by the FAO to have achieved MGD1. Some of the other nations declared to have achieved MDG1 are Bangladesh, Benin, Indonesia, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Uruguay.
Food justice campaigners in Cameroon question the positive appraisal, while the prime minister of Cameroon hails the distinction as proof of the good efforts that the government of Cameroon has made in reducing poverty and hunger. However, despite the hype, it is important to assess the situation of those living in hunger and poverty.
From close observation, it can be argued that during the past ten years, Cameroon has made little progress in reducing poverty and hunger. Since 2001, around 40% of the population continues to live below the poverty line ($1.25 per day). Food insecurity persists and is estimated at 9.6 % in rural areas and 6.7 % in urban areas. Data on malnutrition is similarly alarming as 44% of children in the country are undernourished ranging from mild undernourishment in the southern part of the country to severe in the northern region; a situation that affects both child development and growth. There is also a shortage in basic food necessities like rice, fish, and maize, not only in the northern region but also in the entire country and increasingly some of these items are imported into the country. In 2012, for instance, Cameroon imported 450,000 metric tons of milled rice, representing an increase of 12.5% compared to 2011.
The northern region, where the desert is encroaching, is more susceptible to food insecurity and hunger problems due to reasons ranging from poor soils to unpredictable climate. In 2011, the joint report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program indicated that 81 % of rural households in the northern part of Cameroon suffered from food insecurity. According to preliminary findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food after his visit to Cameroon in July 2012, food insecurity in the Far north, North and Adamawa regions of Cameroon stood at 17.9% and 15.4 % and 0.7% respectively.
Even if food insecurity in the north of Cameroon is aggravated by natural causes (poor soils, locust attacks, climate conditions like drought and flooding), there also exist structural causes like poor management of yields, speculation, exports to neighboring countries, demographic growth, poor production methods and lack of inputs. Since the 2008 food crisis, the government response has mostly centered on food distribution to victims, but this approach is far from achieving the objective of eradicating hunger in this region of the country.
For nearly ten years now, the government of Cameroon has issued alerts on food insecurity in the north of Cameroon. In 2011, for instance, the government declared an emergency food crisis in the far north region due to the drastic drop in cereal production. Emergency food response programs have always been relied upon to address the widespread hunger problems in the north. Declaring an emergency food crisis is a first and necessary step, but not long-term solution.
Food insecurity and hunger in the Northern region of Cameroon and in the country in general can only be appropriately addressed if investments in this region are shifted away from emergency food aid towards improving the capacity for local production. Improving local agricultural production is an efficient method to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Investing in small family producers and especially women can be important in fighting poverty and hunger and can help create jobs and improve revenues for the poor. In this way, Cameroon can really begin to tackle hunger from the roots and attain the Zero Hunger Challenge launched in 2012 by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.