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A majority of Cameroon's population relies on the agriculture sector, especially trade commodities like cocoa and cotton, highly vulnerable to volatile prices. Human development is low in the rural North which is prone to droughts. Millets and sorghum are among the important staple foods in this region.  ICRISAT is strengthening its cooperation with Cameroon which has identified agriculture as a priority sector for its social and economic development. 

1 out of three - Rural families in Cameroon who rely on export crops

75% - Share of land area in Cameroon covered by forest

25% - Yield gain from sorghum variety S35 in Cameroon compared to the best local landraces


General context

Often called the grain basket of Central Africa, Cameroon has great agricultural potential in terms of staples, livestock and export commodities like cocoa, coffee, palm oil, and banana. Yet the country has a food deficit as the great majority of Cameroonian farmers are smallholders, generally obtaining low yields from small plots of land using traditional methods such as handheld hoes and animals for draught power.

Cameroon is an important oil and timber exporting country. However, agriculture is also important as the sector represents 20% of GDP, employs almost 60% of the active population and supplies an important agro-processing sector. About ninety percent of the rural households depend on agriculture, and a third make a living from export crops. Even though there has been a fall in poverty in recent years, human development scores are low, especially in rural areas in the North. Many families are vulnerable to shocks like drought as well as price volatility of commodities like cotton and cocoa.

Adamawa in Central Cameroon, a sparsely populated plateau used for grazing cattle, separates the country into two distinct agroecological zones: tropical forests in the south and savannah in the north. The fertile Mandara volcanic mountains in the west, is the most densely populated region of the country (320 persons/km2), which has unfortunately led to significant soil erosion. Food crops grown here include oil palm, maize, groundnuts and beans. The savannah north of Cameroon is most exposed to environmental degradation and disasters like droughts, floods and locusts and the region is often food insecure. Rice, one of Cameroon's main food imports, is grown in the north using both traditional and modern methods.

Other food crops grown in the country include millet, sorghum and maize. Though staple foods vary across the country based on ethnic group, millet and sorghum are among the most widespread. Cotton, a state-run sector, is the most important cash crop in the north, with farmers receiving incentives and training to boost production. Livestock are also important in the region, particularly for the migrant cattle herders, the Fulani.

Around 75% of Cameroon's land area is under forest, and about half of the forests are currently being exploited for timber, with severe deforestation. In recent years, government and donors have been investing in agriculture as a priority sector. Some of the focus areas are training of youth for commercial farming (eg, rice, maize, small livestock value chains); better soil and fodder resource management and supporting agricultural research.

ICRISAT research in Cameroon

ICRISAT is collaborating with Cameroon Agricultural Research Institute for Development (IRAD), notably in pearl millet and sorghum improvement, seed systems to disseminate improved varieties among smallholder farmers, and in linking research, farmers and the agribusiness sector to markets. 

Post-rainy season sorghum known as muskwari in Cameroon, represents a quarter of the total sorghum produced in northern Cameroon. Stem borers are important insect pests. A field study showed that attack by stem borers is frequent (up to 100% incidence), with damage to panicles.

The improved sorghum variety S35 has had huge impact in Cameroon. Yields are 25% higher than the best local varieties while cost of production has fallen by 20%. In 1999, a third of the sorghum area was planted to S35.

ICRISAT brings its expertise in building seed systems for sorghum, millets and groundnut, for instance in a recent CORAF regional initiative.

Under the India-Africa Forum Summit, ICRISAT's Agribusiness Incubation Platform (AIP) is setting up a Food Processing Business Incubation Centre to help rural entrepreneurs nurture their food businesses. This unit is focusing on tapioca-based products. A Food Testing Laboratory is to be established to help small farmers and local agribusiness enterprises meet national and international food quality standards.

Sorghum variety S35 has become highly popular in Cameroon, giving 25% yield gain over the best local varieties.
Photo: Edward, CCIMC
Under the India-Africa Forum Summit's patronage, the setting up of an agribusiness incubator and food testing laboratory in the country will lead to innovative and higher quality value chains.