Unrest in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, the central African nation’s cocoa-growing heartland, is fuelling bean smuggling into neighbouring Nigeria, farmers and buyers said.
Cameroon has been gripped by violence since November 2016, when government forces crushed a peaceful movement of Anglophone teachers and lawyers protesting perceived marginalisation by the French-speaking majority.
Violent clashes between separatists and security forces cut many Cameroonian buyers off from parts of the Southwest region, source of roughly half of Cameroon’s total production ofaround 240,000 tonnes last season.
“Our usual buyers are scared. Some come, but they stop in towns like Mamfe and do not venture further into villages that produce more cocoa,” said Takor, a cocoa farmer in Mamfe, who did not give his surname fearing retribution.
“Now we have buyers from Nigeria,” he said.
A Reuters reporter in Ekok saw bags of cocoa beans loaded on to pick-up trucks and into cars registered in Nigeria’s Cross River State.
Cocoa smuggling has long been an issue along the border. Cameroonian farmers and buyers told Reuters the crisis has aggravated smuggling.
Smugglers, they said, are now paying higher prices for beans and venturing deeper into Cameroon, the world’s fifth biggest producer, to scoop up more of farmers’ output.
One farmer in Eyang Ntui said Nigerians paid between 850 and 1,000 CFA francs (£1.1-£1.3) per kg of beans. Cameroonian buyers are paying around 600 CFA francs/kg, he said.
“The crisis brought us closer together. It is easier to sell to Nigerians who are near us,” said Mbeng, who farms 12 hectares of cocoa near Mamfe and also withheld his surname.
No estimate was available for smuggled volumes, with Cameroonian farmers and buyers saying amounts were significant.
Farmer Georges Eyong said his co-operative sold 53 tonnes of beans to Nigerian buyers this month.
A senior official with Cameroon’s sector regulator, the National Office for Cocoa and Coffee (ONCC), said it plans to curb cocoa smuggling by setting up check points along the Nigerian border.