MOKOLO, Far North—The war on Boko Haram has crippled the business of vegetable farmers in the Far North region, eroding the livelihood of thousands.
As the conflict enters its fourth year, the number of farm produce buyers has dropped and left farmers stranded with their decaying harvest.
In the dry season, lush vegetation slowly gives way to a parched terrain across Cameroon’s semi-arid north. As temperatures hit 40 degrees Celcius and sandy winds gush in from the Sahara, the grass and shrubs turn from dark green to brown.
Here and there, small patches of green fields form a striking contrast against the withered surrounding. These are the offseason crops that keep life going under harsh climatic conditions, in one of the country’s poorest regions.
Today, the long-drawn war on Boko Haram is rendering them worthless.
In February, a 60-year-old man was inspecting one such plot – a neat row of cabbage balls outside the farming district of Mokolo. The crop was ready for harvest, but Ngaroua Tewe showed no excitement.
“Buyers have become scarce,” Ngaroua said barley audibly, in broken French. “When the road to Kousseri was passable we could take our vegetables there. But the city and its buyers have since been cut off.”
Kousseri is one of the cities in northern Cameroon that have been isolated from the rest of the country by the war on Boko Haram. Overlooking the Chadian capital Ndjamena, the city used to be a business hub. Traders came from Chad, Mali and even Sudan. The easy movement of people across the border provided a huge market for vegetable farmers like Tewe.
Today, the city is a shadow of its old self.
An increase in Boko Haram assaults, suicide bombings and landmine explosions has kept many people out of the region.
Tewe says prices have plummeted.
“A sac of cabbage used to sell for 20,000 francs. These days it is down to 5000 or 6000 francs. Even when we try to retail we can’t break even.”
The battlefront is confined to the border with Nigeria. But the conflict’s impact is felt across the region.
Officials estimate that terrorists and military reprisals have killed more than 1,700 people in Cameroon since 2013. More than 280,000 have been forced out of their homes; and about 60,000 Nigerian refugees have crossed the border.
The UN warns that residual impacts could be more devastating. The war’s crushing effect on agriculture will affect more than two million people.
Migrations due to persisting insecurity have created chaos, disrupted farming and strained impoverished communities. Harsh climatic conditions brought even more troubles.
In February, the UN Humanitarian coordinator, Najat Rochidi, warned of tensions brewing in stretched communities hosting forced migrants from the borders and Nigeria.
For years, people like Tewe, sustained their families with off season gardening. In many ways, it is their only escape from grinding poverty.
But with no one buying, their harvest has become worthless.