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Focus On Ebolowa Agric Show: How Biya Doused The Ebolowa Agric Show 

By Yerima Kini Nsom

Despite glittering externalities marked by a colorful opening ceremony on January 17, the Agro-pastoral show at Ebolowa was low-keyed for the three days that President Paul Biya was there. The high-handed attitude of Presidential guards and protocol officers kept many people away from the event. Elements violently shoved away Journalists, who attempted trailing the President as he visited various stands on January 18. Some farmers, foreigners and other stakeholders were scared off by intimidating security elements each time the President came to the Agric Show at Ngallan.

 "During the opening ceremony, the whole world was blocked outside the Agric village," the SDF Chairman, Ni John Fru Ndi remarked to The Post as he complained about the scarring attitude of the Presidential guards. The protocol officers did not help matters. They guided the President away from stands of organisations that move and shake agriculture in the country. Rather, they were quick in guiding President Biya to the stands of administrative outfits that have no direct bearing on agriculture.

The President, The Post learnt, only came back to the CDC and SODECOTTON as an after thought on January 20, while he had been earlier guided away from them. The General Managers of the CDC and SODECOTTON were visibly happy that he came at all. Earlier, on Tuesday January 18, the State protocol officers virtually guided the President away from the two stands. Business magnate and CPDM baron, El Alhadji Dampullo, The Post was told, protested vehemently before the President came back to a stand where he had exhibited a rare breed of cows.

President Biya was highly applauded when he and the First Lady, Chantal Biya, visited the stands for over five hours non-stop. Many Ministers and other State officials got tired in the way, but the Presidential Couple proved its strength by going on and on. The President discussed freely with farmers, sometimes tasting their food and touching their products. The President ran into an ugly incident the second day he was visiting the stands. Harris Minitya, Journalist who was recently released from the Kondengui Prison, attempted to defy the Presidential security and meet President Biya by force.

Mintya, who was detained on the order of the secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic, Laurent Esso, for forgery actually attracted the attention of the President. He was immediately whisked away by security men. According to the journalist, he was arrested for greeting the First Lady and telling her in the Bulu dialect that he wanted to meet her. He said elements of the Presidential security arrested under the pretext that he went about snapping pictures without an accreditation batch.

Farmers Return With Their Problems

While appreciating the organisation of the event, Bernard NJonga of the Cameroon Coalition for food sovereignty, said he was happy that the event took place at all after 23 years. Briefing Journalists, at the Ngalan Village on January 21, the civil society activists said the Ebolowa Agric show was an Agric Show for politicians and administrators.

He said farmers were relegated to the backyard while politicians were at the forefront. He asked why the organisers of the event did not allow the 1200 farmers who exhibited various produce to sit at the Presidential tribune for once. While analysing the problems that stall agricultural production, Njonga picked holes with President Biya’s speech, saying it failed to address pertinent issues. Any measures aimed at solving problems in agriculture must involve the rural farmers, he said. Njonga, an agronomist by training, said 97 percent of farmers in the maize sector have maximum one hectare of land for production.

In Cameroon, he said not up to five people have maize farms of 100 hectares. He also pointed out that 80 percent of maize is consumed locally. "It is unfortunate that 25.000 tons of maize are imported into Cameroon for FCFA 4 billion. Also, 400.000 tons of wheat is imported for FCFA 58 billion whereas we can use maize and casava to produce bread," Njonga revealed.

The civil society activist also disclosed that Cameroon also losses FCFA 120 billion for the importation of rice. He called on Government to map out a policy that would limit the importation of these food items and boost local production by way of subsidies to farmers. For one thing, the 1200 farmers that exhibited various products proved their mettle and potential. They proved that they need only a little support from Government to get Cameroon out of the economic malaise that is fuelled by an unhealthy balance of payment spiced by over importation of food crops. The farmers equally proved that they could transform their produce to finished and semi-finished goods if given the support.

One of the farmers from the Centre Region, Mrs Josephine Mbassi, told The Post that she took off time to explain to President Paul Biya all the problems farmers are facing when he visited her stand. "The Head of State encouraged us so much that we will redouble our efforts" one farmer from the Littoral, Sakio Ngando said. Despite the high quality of food crops, buying was so timid that many farmers sold them at give away prices.

Over 200 farmers won various prices at the Agric Pastoral Show that ended Saturday, January 22. Prime Minister, Philemon Yang declared the event closed at 2 pm in a terse statement. The curtains came down on the event without the authorities announcing where and when the next Agric Pastoral Show will take place.

Reactions To Ebolowa Agro-Pastoral Show

Northwest Is Best In Rice, Arabica
I found out that no other farmer or region could beat us, especially in the domain of rice, even in the Arabica coffee I brought. I am particularly very happy with the show and with what the farmers of the Northwest exhibited. The Head of State observed that we have potentials for rice in the Northwest and gave instructions, directly to the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, that everything should be done to support the cereal sector because we have potentials in that direction.

We had a good number of prizes as you could see. My farmers received more than 12 medals of excellence from the Head of State, which is already something. We also had the prize for the best rice farmer in the whole country and it is a glaring point. We can do a lot more with the promises he has made to the farmers of this country. I strongly believe that in five years to come, the Northwest will feed the sub region, because we have the potentials and our farmers are ambitious and willing to work. So, I am looking forward to making sure that all the assistance that government puts at the disposal of these farmers enables them to enhance their production.

There is complete reawakening. The Head of State reminded the farmers how they have waited for 20 years for this agro-pastoral show and finally had it. It means that somewhere, somehow, we made some errors but we have realised ourselves and we are re-orientating our policies and our approach. I heard him give firm and direct instructions to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Works to construct roads in farming areas.

This means that we are on a good footing. This country is bound to be an emerging nation. I believe that the nation is moving forward. We are now going to what is called the second generation agriculture in this country wherein we should put more emphasis on the transformation, packaging and the added value on the processed products so as to bring more money to the farmers.
Godfred Awah Nutoto – Northwest MINADER Delegate

We Shouldn’t Import Cereals, Grain
When we got here, our farmers were suffering because there was no food, even though we were promised that by the time we get hear, there will be food. There were some difficulties having food for farmers, the Ministry came out and gave some money to the farmers to live on within this time.

The Head of State mentioned that nothing should be imported into this country; that we should not be importing rice, maize and groundnuts. These are the things that I think were very meaningful to the farmers, because, I don’t even see why we are importing those things when we have the potentials of producing them here. This is one of the agric shows that I have attended, which has touched the farmers. The President of the Republic moved around, greeted the farmers and I heard one farmer say "we wish the President had 10 more years." I think this alone has encouraged them a lot.

It is not that agriculture has not been given subsidies. We give subsidies everyday but the problem is that they go to the wrong hands. There is a problem of identification because politicians don’t pass through the technicians, but rather go straight to the source and get funding for farmers and these people are not farmers. That is why I say, it goes to the wrong hands. But the Ministry of Agriculture has been giving subsidies to farmers almost every year. Subsidies should be given to people who are already producing, just to encourage them produce more; not to give to somebody to start a farm, because, this person will never have a good farm.

Concerning the agricultural bank, I think after the death of FONADER, Credit Agricole came up but did not last. Now, if there is a farmer’s bank where the farmers can use, probably, their farms as collateral, then, that will be one great thing that is going to boost agriculture. 
As the President said, we are not supposed to import rice. This is the same stance as far as the Southwest Region is concerned because we can produce rice in Akwaya that can feed the entire region. The only handicap we have is the poor nature of the roads. I led a delegation of 120 farmers and close to 60 staff members to the Agric show.
Lawrence Nyakangah Forwang – Southwest Delegate, MINADER

I Am Happy As Best Rice Farmer
I was very happy because I never knew I could be the first in the whole country as far as rice is concerned and I am requesting all Cameroonians, including the Head of State, to consume Cameroonian rice as a means of encouraging Cameroonians; the old and the women who cultivate rice. The government should reduce the rate of importing rice because when rice is imported in great quantities, it affects the local producers. I have about 60 tons and if the government gives me a helping hand, we can triple that quantity in the coming year.
Pius Zangue – Best Rice Farmer

Organisation Of The Show Was Poor
The organisation of the show was very poor, but I want to congratulate the Cameroonian farmers that, under the very hard and difficult conditions, they were able to have the output that they had. I do hope that this will improve because if you compare what we produce here with what is produced in many developing countries of the world, you will see that we are far behind, and after postponing an agric show for over 20 years, I think that we could have done something better.

Lots of the people who came with all the enthusiasm for the opening ceremony were all locked out. I had to trek for almost 2 km to go for a reception. How can this be when they knew that Ebolowa was going to take a heavy traffic; people coming in from all over the nation. All the areas shortlisted for receptions could have been appropriately arranged. Look at the agric village. I think that the Ebolowa women could have taken advantage of the show to make some money for themselves by setting up little restaurants here and there. I have gone round and I have not seen any tap where people can go and drink water. There is so much that I have not seen here and I am very disappointed.

The President talks of improving on the agricultural sector; but these are promises that we have heard before. We want to see action. He has been on the seat for 28 years and all have been years of promises. He promised people things here and said he is going to do them in six months. How can he do in six months what he could no do in these 28 years?
John Fru Ndi – SDF National Chairman

Credit, Land, Roads Still Problem
There is still this worry; there is lack of credit. There are difficulties about land, if you are talking about making it easier for land to be available. I am glad the President mentioned the issue of a fertiliser producing plant in Cameroon. I hope that will take place. They started something like that many years ago but I don’t know what happened. This time around, I’m sure it will come once the Head of State gets started, there is going to be a tremendous contribution.
Good planting material is necessary. But there is the question of farm-to-market roads.

Right now things are rotting in the farms, in Meme, for instance, because farmers have no way of evacuating their produce. Once we have a good system of disenclaving these areas, creating roads; that will be a great incentive to make farmers produce more. I am very pleased with the President’s address. He talked about transformation and we need to transform our products and there is really no reason why food should be imported to Cameroon at all. At the National Employment Fund stand, you can see a heap of cassava roots and packages of various products from cassava like nice garri and flour.

We have very fertile soil, favourable climate, the people are dynamic but the infrastructure must be provided. He talked about micro finance and things of that nature for credit. The extension services should also perform by going around and educating the people. There will be greater approach to policy and greater dynamism following the transformation of our products – why not!?
Nfon Victor Mukete – Paramount Chief of the Bafaws

Good Farm Made Me Best Cocoa Farmer
Being the best farmer does not mean I have the largest cocoa farm more than any other person. It is just the way I handle the farm. The farm has been inspected for more than three years and people come from Canada and other places and witness how I handle the farm. However, I was surprised how I became the best cocoa farmer in the country.

I am based in Munyenge, Muyuka Subdivision in Fako Division. Munyenge is a village where there is no electricity, no road and no water. The cocoa sector was becoming a dull sector. People come out with their own prices and determine what they can buy since farmers have no union. My appeal to the government is to help farmers create a union so that they can bargain their prices with the buyers.

I am 69 years old and I have been farming for 42 years today – that is, since 1969. Farming is helping me because I have been educating my children right up to the university level and my family is doing very well. I am going to put the FCFA 500,000 I have won into to the farm. It is going to help me spread some cocoa seedlings to regenerate part of the farm which is already old.
Philip Chia Awunti – Best Cocoa Farmer

It Was An Agric Show For The Elite
From the organisational point of view, farmers were not taken seriously. There is much talk about them but they derive very little or no benefit from the show. I have looked for what these farmers could take home as benefits but have not seen. They talk of tractors but simple seedlings are absent. It was an agric show for the elite – elite of the South who have farms but don’t live on farming.

Those peasants who live solely on farming were not present here. The decorated laureates were merely elite. The real farmers are crying. For example, the great palm producer who was supposed to be decorated is returning home sad. Even their wellbeing is of no body’s concern. They are crying of hunger. I even had to make a gesture to help some of them who are coming from my place (Ocean Division).

Let us wait and see; may be they are going to change things. However, Ebolowa has witnessed a face lift in social amenities such as roads and health centres. The sanitation of the town too has improved. It is not a surprise since we have been expecting those projects. And, by the way, they are not new projects. Our sole desire is that they should be realised. We only accept when we have seen them because most often we wait and wait in vain.
Lucas Ndi – Elite of South Region

I Think That Producers Have Failed Us
An agro pastoral show consists of three things. Firstly; it is a place where peasants showcase their knowhow. Secondly; it is an occasion where the political authorities make decisions on the future of agriculture in the country. Thirdly; it is a place where consumers express their solidarity towards producers.

Taking a look at the first objective – a place where peasants showcase their knowhow – I think that producers have failed us. You have large tomatoes, large tubers of yams, big bunches of plantains; the peasants have demonstrated that Cameroon is a rich country because what they have showcased is our potentials and not our production. You can see a large tuber of yam but, perhaps, there are not up to 10 in Cameroon. Meanwhile, they ought to have 1 000 tubers like that for us to say it is production. So, they have showcased their potentials; they lack production because there are problems.

On the political aspect that has to do with decision-making; there are two aspects. Firstly the opening ceremony was not up to the feast of the peasants. It rather sold out the image of the administration, because, in the organisation of the agric village, the peasants were pushed to a very small and insignificant corner. At a quick glance, you can only see long ties sitting while the peasants are hanging on trees to catch a glimpse of their own feast (laughs). That is the ugly side of the organisation.

Now, as for decisions taken; there was nothing great, nothing memorable about Ebolowa.
President Biya knows the problems but he proposes poor solutions to them. When he talks of creating an agricultural bank; it is true and the peasants do, in fact, have financial problems, but it is not a bank they need.

I can see we have not yet washed away the spirit of FONADER. A bank does not really suit the peasants because; when you create a bank, tell me whether there will be a bank in Nguelemedouka, Toboro or Ngolndjock? Of course not. But this is where we have the small farmers. A bank will remain in the large cities and this will not resolve the financial problems of these small scale producers who make up 95 percent of our population.

As for the President not visiting the coalition stand; I think he was very tired. I am not disappointed but rather surprised, because it is incomprehensible. That is why I say I am surprised. My message is that we should consume Cameroonian products such as Ndop Rice and Yagoua Rrice and stop eating rice from Thailand. We cannot import everything.
Bernard Njonga – National Food Sovereignty Coalition President

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