Thursday, November 15, 2018
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By Ntaryike Divine Jr

The new coffee commercialization season was flagged off on December 8 in the town of Angossas, a coffee-growing hub perched some 300 km east of the capital Yaounde. The routine yearly ritual that convenes growers from across the country unfolded against a backdrop of budding concerns following troubling slumps in production and exports documented in the just-ended season.

A release from the Board reveals a 39 percent plunge in output of both varieties last season to 34,417 tons. Production of robusta, a main ingredient in instant coffee and espresso, plummeted 31, 840 tons from 53,299 tons harvested in the 2009/10 season. Arabica output also slipped from 3,423 tons to 2,577 tons in the season spanning October to September every year.

Similar trends were pinpointed in exports. The Board says only about 30,194 tons of robusta were shipped out of the country compared with the 44,966 tons of the previous season, while arabica exports dropped from 3,198 tons in 2009/10 to 2,390 tons with Germany and Belgium topping the charts of biggest buyers.

Fuelling the Slumps

In an interview shortly before the season launch, Michael Ndoping, General Manager of the Cameroon Cocoa and Coffee Board, explained that an assortment of factors kindled the production and exports declines including an outbreak of disease, climate change, farmers’ lack of concentration, the Arab Spring in the Maghreb as well as smuggling.

“Yes, there’s the effect of climate change with a prolonged rainy season. Another thing is that there’s been an outbreak of what we call the CBD, the Coffee Berry Disease which has had a toll on production.  The plants actually produce the cherries, but they drop off before they’re mature. It is a fungi disease treated with some chemical inputs, but again we have a problem with applications of chemicals because if it’s not done properly, you might end up with a product that is chemically not suit for human consumption,” he explained.

Elsewhere, the General Manager of the North West Cooperative Association of Coffee Farmers, Christopher Mbah told reporters that snowballed illegal sales of the crop at higher rates to buyers in neighboring Nigeria also considerably scaled down exports.  He said “a lot of arabica coffee was smuggled to neighboring Nigeria.” The North West Region accounts for about 70 percent of the country’s total arabica output.

Meantime, Ndoping frowned at the reigning volatility in the sector prompted by farmers’ lack of total dedication to coffee cultivation.  “Most farmers in Cameroon are coffee farmers by default.  It is not their main activity, they have other activities and then they have a farm by the side.  So if the prices are good like now, fine.  But if the prices are not good, they abandon the cherries even on the trees,” he bemoaned.

Coffee Suffers No Discrimination

Across the country, some farmers have insinuated that cocoa benefits more government support than coffee to explain the steady production growth witnessed with the main chocolate ingredient in recent years.  But Ndoping rebuffed the allegation.  He says when prices enjoyed a world market boom in the 60s and 70s, coffee was Cameroon’s main cash crop with production surpassing that of cocoa. 

“It is not a political decision.  The market determines production and since we export most of our production, if the market catches a cold, we catch a fever.  Yes, a lot is being done for cocoa.  A lot is being done for coffee as well.  But coffee is more tedious than cocoa,” he explained.

The government has been doubling efforts to perk up the coffee sector in recent years, but feedback from farmers is not adequately satisfactory.  Ndoping says the efforts will continue.  The government has been distributing fertilizers and other farm inputs gratis, while farmers have been schooled on best practices. 

“We have initiated a small project which we call VermiCompost, to produce natural manure from chaff.  It’s a new technology we’ve introduced.  We’ve had seminars around the country teaching farmers what to do with the chaff and how to transform that into manure.  And so hopefully, we will be able to turn the trend next season,” Ndoping added. 

The official disclosed that Cameroon has set a coffee production target of 125,000 metric tons for both Robusta and Arabica in the new season to span December 2011 – November 2012,a figure which appears unattainable.

“It sounds big, but is not really big because the potential is there, the farms are there.  It only takes for the farmers to adopt good agricultural and farm management practices and just put in the right amount of fertilizers and the right amount of chemicals at the right time and we would make the 125,000 tons like that,” he said.

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