Cameroon Is Not Coffee Ready
Cameroon's farmers will fail to cash in on rising world coffee prices because they have been too slow to return to a crop they abandoned in the 1990s when prices fell, a top industry executive said on Friday.
Pierre Tsimi Enouga, Executive Secretary of Cameroon's Cocoa and Coffee Interprofessional Board (CICC), said he was disappointed during a tour to the main coffee-growing West and North-West provinces to see many farms still growing food crops.
"As you know, coffee prices are rising on the world market," he told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry meeting in Yaounde. "But I'm afraid our farmers may not be able to benefit from this new trend because they are not ready."
Low prices in the 1990s left governments in many African countries footing the bill for large subsidies, prompting rapid liberalisation which left the sector in states including Cameroon in disarray.
Since liberalisation, farmers in the central African country abandoned coffee in droves as quality declined. Unregulated merchants and poor infrastructure forced those who stuck with the crop to sell beans at knock-down prices.
Africa's share of world coffee production has virtually halved since the late 1970s to around 13 percent, but as world robusta prices rise farmers around the continent are scrambling to ramp up production.
Cameroon's government has tried to revive the coffee sector by setting up a Cocoa and Coffee Fund and promising to provide farmers with hybrid high-yielding seedlings which are more resistant to disease.
The fund, created in March 2006, is meant to promote Cameroonian coffee abroad, and support scientific research.
But Tsimi Enouga, who is also chairman of the Fund's board, said it had yet to agree a working programme for this and future years.
There were also delays providing seedlings, with only 20 percent of those promised actually available, he said.
"For now there is not much we can do for farmers this year," he said. "The board is still to meet next Tuesday to define a working schedule for this year."
Robusta coffee futures traded around $1,600 per tonne in London on Friday, up more than $300 since last May.