Anglophone Region: Armed Groups Target 'Rich Men', Demand Money

Douala - Several cocoa farmers who had left the Anglophone region as armed groups had been targeting “rich men” and demanding money to allow the flow of goods out of the area.

In June, Peter, 59, abandoned his cocoa farm and sought refuge in Douala with his wife and four children.

“Since (the) beginning of this year ... not a week has passed without an exchange of fire between army and separatist fighters,” said Peter, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.

“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.”
More Trouble in Anglophone Region 
As many as 200 000 people have fled the English-speaking regions since late last year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. As farmers flee the southwest, sources say the conflict has started to hit cocoa output and flow.

The southwest accounted for 45 percent of Cameroon’s production in 2016/17, but its share dropped to 32 percent last season, according to CICC, the country’s cocoa regulator. Cameroon produced 253,510 tonnes of beans in the 2017-2018 season.

The conflict has made it more difficult to move beans out of the Anglophone region and into the main port in Douala, the sources said. Cameroon’s cocoa stocks built up to 21,159 tonnes in 2017-2018, from 7,212 tonnes in the prior season, according to the National Office of Cocoa and Coffee (ONCC).

“The vast majority of this stock is in the English-speaking region because the fighting paralyses everything,” a source at the ONCC said.

However, trade sources said cocoa was still finding its way out of the southwest, as more beans were being smuggled into Nigeria instead. One trade source estimated that volumes flowing across the border rose to 30,000-40,000 tonnes last season, from about 10,000 in previous years.

“At the end of the day, cocoa is money for the locals,” the source said. “It’s like water - it always finds its way out.”

Telcar Cocoa, Olam and Theobroma are among the firms that have moved the majority of their staff out of southwest Cameroon due to safety concerns, according to several sources with knowledge of the matter.

Some cocoa farmers have also abandoned their plantations and fled, driven out by a rise in kidnappings, extortion and fighting between insurgents and security forces.

“Producers have fled into the bush and elsewhere, and can no longer take care of their plantations,” said James Mosima, president of the union of southwest cocoa farmers. “The situation is really very difficult.”

Cameroon has been gripped by violence since November 2016, when government forces crushed a movement of Anglophone teachers and lawyers protesting against their perceived marginalisation by the country’s French-speaking majority.

The protests morphed into an insurgency of separatists seeking independence for the Anglophone southwest and northwest regions, which were controlled by Britain during colonialism.

The crisis has intensified ahead of elections in October, with the increasingly bloody clashes hitting cocoa trade in what was once the key cocoa region of Cameroon, the world’s fifth-largest producer.

In recent months, insurgents have abducted and killed soldiers while security forces responded by burning villages and opening fire on fleeing residents, according to witnesses. The army denies such accusations.

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