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Why Do We Still Feed On European Alimentary Scrap? 

By Azore Opio

Have you ever paused to wonder why leather shoes, tyres and their tubes, clothes, rice, frozen fish and canned fish, tinned tomatoes, chocolates, tea (Lipton) coffee (Nescafe) milk and all its by-products; oils, perfumes and most other essential commodities are still imported into Cameroon?

Yet, the potential to produce most of these things is too awful for words? And again, have you noticed that we have conveniently become a scrap yard where worn-out goods; in short, okrika!, inferior Chinese products and such other crap are either hawked from door to door or just dumped?

After being champions in disposing of prodigious quantities of beer, and two-time winner of the World Cup Corruption trophy, we were also honoured with admission into the distinguished club of highly indebted poor countries. Despite these various distinctive honours, we are still groveling in front of France and even Britain, which shamelessly turned its back to us after 1961, and the Germans, of course, for aid and advice on how to do our own business.

And on what to eat. At fifty, we seem to have never enjoyed the satisfaction that comes with being independent. Different turns of fate have tended to deny us the opportunity to eat what we grow, drink what we brew, and wear what we weave or strap the leather that we tan. We still spend, annually, whooping thousands of billions of FCFA to import food. Food. We import milk and all its by-products; leather, wood, plastic and metal products which we could easily and cheaply produce locally. Even meat!

The Balance Of Payments recently released tells us, unambiguously, that last year we spent FCFA 2084 billion, a measly drop from FCFA 2561 billion of 2008, on importation of food. A staggering figure by any standard. Of this amount frozen fish gulped circa FCFA 112.8 and rice. Rice! scooped FCFA 118.6 billion.

This doesn’t sound right at all for a country with a total surface area 475,440 km2 with water taking up 6,000 km2 and an estimated human population of a mere 20 million. And huge quantities of precious minerals buried underground begging to be exploited. Why can’t all this billions be invested in local industries and business ventures?

With a coastline 402 km long, fishing doesn’t seem to benefit local Cameroonians sailing out in canoes as against Chinese trawlers with unorthodox devices that suck up the very depths of the sea with all its residents. Despite the country’s dense network of rivers, most of which arise on the central Adamawa plateau and flow north or south with abundant water resources totaling annually to some 283.5 billion m3, the lack of comprehensive harnessing of these resources leaves Cameroonians virtual beggars sitting on a golden stool.

And the country is now characterized by gross disparities of wealth and poverty and acute unemployment; a situation made worse by a highly developed criminal syndicate, which has consistently corroded the economy and subverted democracy where elections rarely bring precious little relief to the democracy starved Cameroonian.

Although agriculture is the backbone of Cameroon’s economy, accounting for about 41 percent of GDP (World Bank, 2007) and 55 percent of the workforce (WRI, 2007), exuberant but ineffective conferences, meetings, seminars and workshops seem to be the main pre-occupation of policy makers.

There seems to be too many inefficient administrative structures. Another reason why we keep on importing frozen fish, canned fish and sometimes frozen chicken with flaccid flesh and mediocre taste is because the modern economic private sector is relatively small and inflexible particularly in the production or transformation of goods for the home market.

Thus, the economy depends largely on the importation of consumer goods at exorbitant prices and at the expense of local industries. The railway system, rural roads, the ports; all are dilapidated and they don’t help matters. There is no direction, no focus for development; education is a perilous and an amorphous system emphasizing general education.

The regime, however, has set its political kingdom for a chosen few to maintain the status quo with every means possible. Bamenda is currently receiving a scrubbing. The pocked streets have been surfaced; may be a bridge or two have been strengthened to embrace the heavy weight of the presidential entourage that will soon rumble into the city.

Sepulchers too have been given a coat of whitewash. Animal dung and human waste have been removed from sight. Bamenda is gleaming albeit for the moment. As for the leather, you know that we consume the hides of our animals (game) either in pepper soup or as kanda in achu soup, fufu and eru, okra, ndole or just the skin as it is.

There are several actions that government or any group(s) of right-thinking persons could do to improve the situation. First, we think that some of the people in high places who purport to think and act on behalf of the society, should stop basking contentedly in their pseudo-intellectual milieu and begin to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action.

We need a radical programme of social change. Government can and should invest in viable projects such as reviving the defunct rice schemes, support larger irrigation systems to sustain agriculture during the dry season and in arid areas; quickly increase the country’s estimated hydroelectric potential of 35 GW with only a trivial 2 percent of this potential developed.

The government and its business partners should also, besides dying to maintain the status quo, construct a nationwide grid to distribute the 20 percent of the electricity that is lost, even though the south and the rural areas in general are undersupplied. Enough electricity supply would spur industrialization.

Also government and the peoples of Cameroon do not have to wait for Europeans or Asians to make food policies for them; to tell them what to eat. Some of the foods they recommend are anachronistic to their health. There is an overlooked food resource in sub-Saharan Africa that has vast potential: native food plants. All in all, Africa has more than 2,000 native grains and fruits -"lost" species due for rediscovery and exploitation.

Consequently, we have the capacity to diversify our agriculture by bringing many of our vegetables and fruits into wider commercial use. This may involve the use of agricultural biotechnology to adapt crops to new ecological conditions. The problem with cassava, for example, is the lack of processing capacity. Once that problem is tackled, there obviously will be surplus for export. Same applies to rice, which we could have been blissfully exporting at a profit.

As for fishing, now that Bikoro Alo’o, who tried his long fingers at ship welding and failed awfully, is back in his right place, Chantier Navale should embark on constructing affordable fishing boats for Cameroonians to buy or lease to catch their own fish, package and export them, when they are not eating the creatures on their dinner tables. In short, we should take a bold step away from ever remaining passive consumers of vile gastronomical prescriptions to producing, transforming and preserving our agricultural, horticultural, aquacultural, and mineral and forest resources.

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