May 30

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The Challenges Faced by Robusta Coffee Farmers in Cameroon

By Hanson Cheng

May 30, 2023


Robusta coffee farming is a vital source of income for many Cameroonians, with the country being the second-largest producer of this crop in Africa after Cote d’Ivoire. However, Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon face numerous challenges that put their livelihoods at risk. These challenges include the effects of climate change, low prices, pests and diseases, and insufficient government support. As a result, many farmers are struggling to cope with the situation, and there is an urgent need for interventions to address these issues and enhance the resilience of the coffee sector.

Understanding Robusta Farming in Cameroon

Robusta coffee farming is a crucial economic activity in Cameroon. The country is ranked as the largest producer of the crop in Central Africa, with the coffee industry generating approximately 20% of its agricultural export earnings. Robusta coffee is known for its high caffeine content and is used mostly in making instant coffee, espresso, and as a filler in blends. It is grown mainly by smallholder farmers in regions with favorable climatic conditions such as the West, Northwest, Littoral, and Southwest provinces of Cameroon.

The production of Robusta coffee has provided income and livelihoods to numerous households in Cameroon, thereby contributing significantly to poverty reduction. However, the industry has encountered several challenges in recent years, such as climate change, increased competition from other crops, low productivity, pests and diseases, and insufficient support from the government.

These challenges have limited the growth potential of Robusta coffee farming, leading to a reduction in farmers’ income and a decline in the quality of coffee produced. Thus, this article aims to explore the challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon and discuss possible solutions to mitigate the effects of these challenges.

Problem Statement

The challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon are multifaceted and significant. Cameroon’s coffee industry has been declining in recent years, with production falling from 117,460 metric tons in 2000 to 38,400 metric tons in 2019. The causes of this decline are diverse, including inadequate infrastructure, climate change, and low productivity. Cameroon’s coffee farmers, particularly those who grow Robusta, face a range of challenges that threaten their livelihoods and the sustainability of the industry.

One of the most pressing challenges is the prevalence of pests and diseases, such as coffee berry disease and rust. These diseases can significantly reduce crop yields and quality, making it difficult for farmers to earn a living wage. In addition to pests and diseases, Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon also face challenges related to access to markets and finance. Many farmers are unable to access credit or loans that would allow them to invest in their farms and improve productivity. This lack of finance is a particular challenge for smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of coffee producers in Cameroon.

Furthermore, there are issues related to the lack of infrastructure and the poor quality of transportation networks. Cameroon’s roads and railways are inadequate and poorly maintained, making it hard for farmers to transport their crops to market. This can result in low prices for farmers and lost income. The lack of infrastructure also makes it difficult for farmers to access inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, which are crucial for maintaining healthy crops.

Finally, climate change is another significant challenge facing Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon. Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns have led to an increase in crop diseases and pests, as well as decreased productivity. According to a study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, coffee-growing regions in Cameroon could experience significant declines in production by the year 2050 as a result of climate change.

Overall, the challenges facing Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon are numerous and complex. To ensure the sustainability of the coffee industry in Cameroon, it is essential to address these challenges and provide farmers with the support they need to improve productivity, increase yields, and access markets. 

Factors Affecting Robusta Coffee Farming

Pests and Diseases

One of the most critical challenges that Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon face is the prevalence of pests and diseases. There are several common pests and diseases that have been identified as significant threats to the growth and yield of Robusta coffee plants in Cameroon. Among these pests and diseases are root-knot nematodes, coffee berry borers, and fungal diseases such as coffee leaf rust and coffee wilt disease. Root-knot nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil and can cause severe damage to the roots of Robusta coffee plants.

They can stunt the growth of the plant, reduce its productivity, and make it more vulnerable to other diseases. Coffee berry borers are small beetles that lay their eggs inside the coffee cherries. The larvae of these beetles then feed on the coffee beans, leading to a significant reduction in yield and quality. Fungal diseases such as coffee leaf rust and coffee wilt disease can also cause severe damage to Robusta coffee plants. Coffee leaf rust, for example, can defoliate the plant, leading to a significant reduction in photosynthesis, while coffee wilt disease can cause the plant to wilt and die.

Controlling the pests and diseases affecting Robusta coffee plants in Cameroon is challenging because many of these pests and diseases have become resistant to traditional pesticides and fungicides. Moreover, some of these pest and disease problems have been exacerbated by climate change, which has led to warmer and wetter conditions that are more conducive to the growth and spread of pests and diseases. As a result, Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon need to adopt integrated pest management strategies that combine various control methods such as cultural practices, biological control, and the use of resistant coffee varieties.

Lack of Access to Resources

The limited access to resources that Robusta coffee farmers face in Cameroon poses a significant challenge to their success in the industry. The lack of adequate information and training is a significant hurdle for farmers who lack the necessary skills to adapt to changing conditions. The shortage of necessary technology also limits their ability to improve their farming methods, ultimately reducing their yield and profits.

Additionally, the high cost of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides negatively affects farmers’ ability to implement good agricultural practices that can improve yield. Access to funds for investment in infrastructure and new technologies is also a significant issue, particularly for smallholder farmers who lack the collateral required by financial institutions. In the face of such challenges, many farmers continue to rely on traditional practices that may no longer be suitable in today’s environment, further endangering the sustainability of the coffee industry in Cameroon.

Market Challenges

Price Volatility

The price volatility of Robusta coffee in the global market has been a great challenge for farmers in Cameroon. The prices of Robusta coffee have experienced significant fluctuations over the years due to factors such as weather conditions, economic conditions, and geopolitical tensions. This has made it difficult for farmers in Cameroon to predict their incomes and plan accordingly for the future. The fluctuation of prices has a direct impact on the livelihoods of the farmers, their families, and the communities they live in. When prices fall, farmers are forced to sell their produce at low prices, which means they earn less revenue.

This forces them to either reduce their production or incur more debt, which, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of poverty. On the other hand, when prices rise, farmers may benefit from the sale of their produce, but they are vulnerable to market shocks. The unpredictable nature of the global coffee market makes it difficult for farmers in Cameroon to invest in productivity-enhancing practices or technology, which would increase their production capacity and enable them to meet the increasing demand for coffee.

Competition

In addition to price volatility, Cameroonian Robusta coffee farmers also face intense competition from other coffee-producing countries. Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia are major competitors with significant market share in the global coffee industry. While Cameroon is known for producing high-quality Robusta coffee beans, these other countries may offer lower-priced coffee beans, which can make it difficult for Cameroonian farmers to compete in the international market.

Additionally, fluctuations in global demand can further exacerbate the competition faced by Cameroonian Robusta coffee farmers. This competition highlights the need for Cameroonian farmers to focus on innovation and quality control to differentiate their products and attract buyers who value sustainability, fair trade practices, and unique flavors. Despite the challenges of competition, Cameroonian Robusta coffee farmers have a rich history and unique cultural practices that also contribute to the value of their coffee and can help them stand out in a crowded market.

Quality Control

Meeting international quality standards is a challenge that Cameroonian Robusta coffee farmers face. These standards to meet are set by coffee buyers in international markets such as the European Union, the United States, and Japan. Quality control is an essential aspect of the global coffee trade, and coffee buyers have high expectations for the beans they purchase.

Buyers expect the beans to have consistent sizing, uniform color, and be free of defects. Besides, the beans must be free of other substances that could impact the taste and aroma of the coffee. The challenge of meeting these expectations is that they require significant investments of time, money, and effort to implement quality control processes.

Additionally, these processes require farmers to have advanced knowledge of coffee quality standards and necessary equipment to implement quality control processes. These challenges can be even more significant in Cameroon because of the limited access farmers have to information, training, and technical support.

Government Policies and Support

Agricultural Policies

The Cameroonian government has put in place various policies to support and regulate the Robusta coffee industry. One of the key policies is the establishment of the National Cocoa and Coffee Board (NCCB), a regulatory body tasked with overseeing the production, marketing, and exportation of cocoa and coffee in Cameroon. The NCCB is responsible for setting the minimum price for coffee sold on the national market.

In addition to the NCCB, the government has established a number of other policies, such as the creation of the Agricultural Development Program, which aims to improve agricultural productivity and promote the use of modern farming practices. However, the effectiveness of these policies has been limited, with some farmers still struggling to make ends meet. One of the biggest challenges facing Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon is the lack of access to credit, which makes it difficult to finance their operations.

Another major challenge is the lack of infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, which makes it difficult to transport coffee to market. Furthermore, many farmers lack the necessary skills and knowledge to improve their yields and quality, which can limit their ability to compete with larger, more established producers. To address these challenges, the government has implemented various support programs, which will be discussed in the next section.

Support Programs

Support programs for Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon are designed to help alleviate some of the challenges that these farmers face. These programs aim to provide growers with access to resources, such as farming equipment, fertilizers, and seeds, that will enable them to produce higher yields and improve the quality of their beans. Programs implemented by the government, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders often include measures to improve irrigation systems, soil management practices, and pest control.

In addition, these programs provide training and education on best practices for coffee cultivation and harvesting. Support programs also aim to help farmers access finance and credit, which is crucial for investment in their farms and agricultural activities. These programs are essential in mitigating the effects of climate change, fluctuating market prices, and other systemic challenges that Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon face. Nonetheless, some farmers do not have knowledge of the existence of these programs, and others do not have access or support, although sufficient information and awareness programs may be available.

Effectiveness of Government Support

The effectiveness of government support programs for Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon has been a topic of concern for many stakeholders within the industry. Despite the government’s efforts to promote agricultural development, there are still significant challenges that farmers face. One of the main challenges is the limited impact that government programs have on the overall productivity of farmers. In many cases, the support provided is insufficient to make a significant difference in the farmers’ livelihoods.

Additionally, there are issues with the distribution of resources and funds, with some farmers receiving less support than others. Another issue with government support programs is their lack of sustainability. Many programs tend to focus on short-term solutions rather than long-term strategies. This means that while farmers may receive support in the short term, the program’s impact may not be sustainable in the long run. Additionally, some programs are not adequately monitored, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness accurately.

There is also a lack of coordination between different government agencies responsible for supporting agriculture in Cameroon. This can result in duplication of efforts or one agency providing support that conflicts with another’s efforts. The lack of coordination can also make it challenging for farmers to navigate the different programs and find the support they need. Despite these challenges, there have been some positive outcomes from government support programs.

For example, the government has provided training and education to farmers, helping them adopt better agricultural practices and increase their yields. The government has also established cooperatives to improve market access for small-scale farmers and provide a platform for them to negotiate better prices for their crops. However, while these initiatives have been successful in some instances, more needs to be done to address the underlying challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon.

Conclusion

Summarizing the main points of this article, it is clear that Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon face a range of challenges that threaten their livelihoods and financial stability. These challenges include climate change, pests and diseases, lack of infrastructure and technology, limited access to markets, and low prices for their crops.

In order to address these challenges, farmers and stakeholders must work collaboratively to find innovative solutions and implement sustainable practices that increase productivity and improve the quality of their crops. Some of the recommended strategies for addressing these challenges include investing in climate-smart agriculture practices, providing farmers with access to financing and technical assistance, improving infrastructure, and promoting access to high-value markets.

It is also crucial to prioritize the empowerment of women and youth in coffee farming communities, as they often face even greater barriers to participation and success in the industry. By prioritizing these efforts, we can help ensure the long-term viability of the Robusta coffee industry in Cameroon and support the livelihoods of the millions of people who rely on it for their livelihoods.

Recommendations

As discussed in this article, the challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon are numerous and complex. However, there are several recommendations that can be made to help address these challenges. Firstly, improving access to finance could help farmers invest in their farms and improve their productivity. This could include supporting microfinance institutions that specialize in lending to farmers, or facilitating partnerships between farmers and larger financial institutions. Secondly, investing in research and development could help farmers to adopt better farming practices and improve the quality of their coffee.

This could include supporting local research institutions, or providing access to training and education programs. Thirdly, promoting fair trade practices could help to stabilize prices and ensure that farmers receive a fair share of the value of their coffee. This could be achieved through certification schemes or direct partnerships between farmers and roasters. Finally, improving infrastructure, such as roads and transport networks, could help to reduce the costs of transporting coffee from farms to markets, and improve access to markets for farmers.

Overall, addressing the challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon will require a coordinated effort from a range of stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, NGOs, and private sector actors. By working together and adopting a multi-faceted approach that addresses the underlying economic, social, and environmental factors that contribute to these challenges, it is possible to improve the livelihoods of farmers and create a more sustainable and equitable coffee value chain.

The challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon – FAQs

1. What are some of the challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon?

Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon face several challenges such as climate change, low productivity and lack of access to credit facilities. Additionally, they are also faced with difficulties in accessing quality inputs and inadequate knowledge of modern farming techniques.

2. How does climate change affect Robusta coffee farming in Cameroon?

Climate change is a major challenge for Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon. The unpredictability of rainfall, recurring droughts and pests and diseases increases production costs and reduces yields. This leads to reduced incomes for the farmers and the loss of their livelihoods.

3. What role do low productivity levels play in the challenges faced by Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon?

Low productivity levels play a significant role in the challenges facing Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon. Low yields mean lower incomes for the farmers and, as a result, a lack of funds for investment in other areas of their farms.

4. How can lack of access to credit facilities affect Robusta coffee farming in Cameroon?

Lack of access to credit facilities can be detrimental to Robusta coffee farming in Cameroon. Farmers need credit to purchase quality inputs, pay for labor, and expand their businesses. Without access to credit, these farmers cannot invest in their businesses, leading to stagnated growth and loss of income.

5. What are some ways to improve modern farming techniques and inputs for Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon?

Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon can improve modern farming techniques and inputs by attending training programs, workshops, and extension services that focus on improving knowledge of modern agriculture. Also, government and international organizations can provide funding for research into new techniques and the introduction of better technologies.

6. What factors contribute to the inadequate knowledge of modern farming techniques among Robusta coffee farmers in Cameroon?

Inadequate knowledge of modern farming techniques is often due to insufficient training and outreach programs. Additionally, limited access to information, high levels of illiteracy, and lack of finances for the implementation of suggested techniques exacerbate the problem.

Hanson Cheng

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