Friday, November 28, 2008

Implications of Global Crises for Africa and Cameroon

Please excuse the grandiose title of this blog. I recently hosted a workshop for VSO volunteers on current global crises and their implications for Africa and Cameroon. Given Cameroon’s dearth of statistics and volunteers’ limited access to the internet it is difficult to find relevant information on Cameroon and on Africa but, in addition to discussing past crises and what we might learn from them, we pooled what thoughts and information we had so as to understand what is happening around us as well as possible.

Food Crisis

The global food crisis is much in evidence in Africa. In Cameroon the price of cooking oil has nearly doubled in the past year, the price of rice has trebled in the past year and the price of sugar has multiplied more than ten-fold in the past few years. Fish from the lake have become expensive in Maga as stocks dwindle due to over-fishing and because buyers from Chad, Maroua and Kousseri are outbidding local purchasers. Separately, a few scares about avian flu (with some substance) have caused a lot of poultry to be killed and eaten and a rise in poultry prices has followed.

The food crisis has resulted in increasing poverty. In the Far North of Cameroon a significant proportion of people do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families and the food price rises have increased this proportion. People were particularly badly affected at the start of the school year, many failing to pay the fees for their children. A high proportion of people had a bout of malaria in September/October, the period of highest risk at the end of the rainy season, and many could not afford medecines. Lack of medicines has clearly contributed to the high mortality rate.

There have been demonstrations in several countries. In Cameroon there were riots in February. The stated cause was the change in constitution to enable Paul Biya to remain as president but the underlying causes included increases in food and energy prices, as well as unemployment among the young. The government imprisoned the organisers. They bought the numerous public servants off with salary increases but now many salaries are in arrears.

A minority benefits from high prices, e.g. rice growers, the majority being affected adversely. There is a need for redistribution of the benefits of price rises.

Africa is on the receiving end of food tariffs and subsidies by the US, EU and Japan and this has distorted the economics of its food production and caused some viable crops not to be grown locally.

Population growth is a long-term cause of hunger, particularly strong in the Far North of Cameroon where families with more than 10 children are common. Birth control would help but is almost never mentioned here.

Energy Crisis

The price of petrol has roughly doubled in the past year and in addition to the direct effects on the cost of travel, there are knock-on effects on the price of products, such as food, which need to be transported. Cameroon has some oil (in the Bakassi peninsula) but is trying to become independent of this source of finance.

Given Cameroon’s climate, solutions to the difficult problems of production and storage of solar energy would be particularly beneficial.

Climate Crisis

Deserts in Africa are increasing (including in Cameroon), there are drought, famine and violent storms (recently in Chad, Togo and Morocco). Nomads who roam between Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic rearing livestock are finding less grazing and fewer watering holes (the Maga council’s tax revenue from the nomads is declining). Lake Chad is contracting. These problems are contributing to migration. Zones where malaria is prevalent are expanding.

Africa is adversely affected by practices in developed and emerging countries. Ideally countries which are net polluters should pay countries such as Cameroon for retaining forests, e.g. using the proceeds of a global carbon tax.

Financial Crisis

Africa has not been affected directly by the financial crisis although some African banks are part of multinational groups. However Africa/Cameroon are affected by reduction of economic growth in developed countries (e.g. Cameroon’s exports of wood to the US have collapsed, putting over 40,000 jobs at risk). Tourism will be affected but is not well developed in Cameroon. Iimmigrants will not be able to afford to continue payments home at their current level.

Credit will be much more difficult to come by and loans will be more expensive. Aid from developed countries is likely to be reduced. Developing countries, including most African countries and Cameroon, are being bypassed in remedial discussions involving the developed and emerging countries and at best the developing countries can hope not to lose out. The massive rescue packages in the developed world dwarf aid to developing countries.

Lower demand in developed and emerging countries will have a beneficial effect on petrol and food prices. There could also be some negative effects, for example I have some fears that local rice growers who are paying heavily for fertilisers for the coming season will find that the price of rice has fallen by the time that they harvest their crop. Recent heavy falls in the price of crude oil have yet to be reflected in the price of petrol at the “pump” in Cameroon (outside of cities such as Maroua, petrol is only sold at stalls at the road-side in cans, in litre bottles, or in smaller quantities). Immigration to developed countries will be less attractive and this should have a beneficial effect on the brain drain from developing countries.

Some commentators believe that Africa will gain relative to other continents as a result of the financial crisis but its lack of influence in world economic affairs has to be a concern, as mentioned earlier.


ian said...

hi Tom, good to see you posting again. I still don't fully understand the rise in world food prices, but suspect strongly that it is linked to the appreciation of oil prices over the last number of years. Now that oil prices have fallen maybe there will be a delayed fall in food prices. I certainly hope so, for the sake of food consumers.

Denis said...

Well, Tom, we've finally caught up with the latest blog. There is no doubt that you have found yourself in the right place in 2008; your involvement and knowledge are really impressive. No doubt, you're doing a fantastic job. Happy new year (if that's appropriate here)! Denis and Gay

Paul said...

Hey Tom - interesting post about the local impacts of global stuff.

Keep up the blogging - great to be able to keep track of what you're up to and I only wish I'd managed to keep an account of my own travels as well as you have...