Escalating violence in the Anglophone region of western Cameroon has threatened production of cocoa, as farmers and production companies are forced to flee the area due to violence. According to a report from Reuters, clashes between separatists and government forces have made the situation too dangerous for agriculture workers to remain safely in the area.
Cameroon is the worlds fifth-largest producer of cocoa and is one of Cameroon’s largest cash crops. It creates an estimated 600,000 jobs while also being a significant source of foreign currency, according to a report from Africa News.
“Producers have fled into the bush and elsewhere, and can no longer take care of their plantations,” said the president of the union of southwest cocoa farmers James Mosima during an interview with Reuters. “The situation is really very difficult.”
The violence began almost two years ago during November of 2016. A group of English-speaking professionals started to protest the government over what they considered ill-treatment. Eventually, some of the protestors formed an insurgency and have been attempting to annex off the northwest and southwestern portions of Cameroon since. Violence in the region between the insurgents and government security forces has been rising recently as the country-wide elections in October creep closer.
According to Deutsche Welle (DW), 200 civilians living in the affected regions have been killed since last October, and hundreds of civilians are still listed as missing.
Several western governments have been critical of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who has failed thus far to control the violence.
“For me, it’s sad. We have been hoping and praying for change for a long time now, but we have the same status quo. Everyone who is reasonable wishes for change in Cameroon,” said Tambi Tabong, a Cameroonian physician who now leads a group of Cameroonian expats living in Bonn, during an interview with DW.
Biya may be attempting to fight back, however. According to Journal du Cameroun, the Cameroonian defense minister Joseph Beti has ordered the recruitment of 2600 additional soldiers. 2000 of which are being assigned to the Rapid Intervention Batallion, and the remaining 600 will be sent to the Presidential Guard. So far, more than 100 soldiers have been killed in the fighting with the English-speaking insurgents.
As the violence flares up and farm workers flee the region, many of the large cocoa industry firms have had no choice but to relocate the rest of their staff and cease production. One warehouse belonging to Telcar Cocoa, a major cocoa firm, has already been burned down, according to a report from Reuters.
Despite the dangers, some local buying agents have been successful in sourcing and exporting cocoa from the danger areas. However, militant groups controlling major supply routes often demand money in exchange for safe passage and extort the remaining workers for protection money.
“I had three hectares of cocoa, and I gave up everything. I could not stay because, apart from bullets, the separatists extorted money from us,” said one farmer named Peter during an interview with Reuters.
The violence and extortion have driven production down and caused the cocoa outlook for Cameroon to drop from an expected record-high year to a stagnant one. What effect, if any, the conflict has on world cocoa prices is yet to be seen. However, according to the International Cocoa Organization, the price of cocoa beans has been climbing since December of last year, with a small decrease noted between May and August.