Yaoundé: University students bear the brunt of surging food prices 0

When the 2022-23 school year resumed in Cameroon’s universities in October 2022, Rose Amandy, a second-year law student at the University of Yaounde 11, Soa, was surprised at the sharp increase in the prices of basic commodities in the local market near campus. This has made life perilous, she said because, unfortunately, the food allowance her parents provided for the semester remained the same.

“The prices of some basic food items have increased by over 50% and this is making life hard for students who depend on our parents. Unfortunately, my allowance from my parents has not changed and this makes it difficult. My semester allowance that was meant to last three months cannot support me for a month,” she complained.

“A tray of eggs that used to sell at XAF1,000 (Central African franc, equal to US$1.62) has gone up to XAF1,500 (US$2.43), while a kilo of rice increased from XAF400 (US$0.65) in 2021 to XAF650 (about US$1) in 2022,” she said.

Like Amandy, University students in the major cities in Cameroon say they are going without food to pay the higher transport fees to school and foregoing social activities in a bid to continue their education in a tough economic environment.

Inflationary pressures on food products have intensified in Cameroon since the start of the Ukraine war.

Difficult global economy

According to the Minister of Trade Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, the increase in the prices of mostly imported food items is the consequence of a perilous global economy triggered by the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The increase in prices of basic food items is not an isolated situation in Cameroon. It is the consequence of a difficult global economy,” the minister told the press at the end of 2022 to justify the increase in prices.

According to the Cameroon National Institute of Statistics, the country had a general inflation rate of 6.61% in August 2022, which is above the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) zone inflation threshold of 3%. Compared with the same month in 2021, general inflation in August 2022 increased by 7.4% in Yaoundé and 6.6% in Douala, driven by a 14.5% to 14.9% increase in food prices – in particular oils and fats, bread and cereals, and meats. During this period, prices of locally produced food products in these cities also rose by 13.3% to 14.4%.

Benson Agbor, an economics student at the University of Yaounde 1, says he can barely buy food. “Now I am obliged to draw up a scale of preference when shopping as prices for commodities and services continue to rise,” he said.

Students suffer due to high prices

Students who live off campus had to deal with an increase in urban transport fares from XAF250 to XAF300 (about US$0.35). At the beginning of February 2023, the government, after conferring with the urban transport union, increased taxi fares following an increase in fuel prices from XAF650 to XAF750 a litre.

At the universities of Bamenda and Buea in the Northwest and Southwest regions where armed conflict between government regular soldiers and Anglophone rebels fighting for independence continues, the increase in staple food prices has exacerbated an already challenging situation for university students.

“Access to food has been difficult here for the past five years since the Anglophone crisis began. Now, with inflation characterised by hikes in food prices, we are going to die of hunger,” said Akuro Jane, a student in the faculty of education at the University of Bamenda.

The scarcity in food supply has continued to increase following global and internal crises, experts say.

According to the World Food Programme 2022 report, the onset of the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 saw price hikes globally on key commodities exported by both Ukraine and Russia, such as wheat, maize, and also fuel and fertiliser. This has had major implications for food security on the African continent, including in Cameroon, where food commodity prices have been on the rise.

Cameroon should become more independent

Despite proving resilient to shocks, including multiple crises in the northern part of the country, the north-west and south-west regions, Cameroon’s economic growth continues to be hampered by structural factors, including the over-reliance on oil, high debt levels, and limited investment in job-creating sectors, especially agriculture. As a result, Cameroon failed to reach its objective of achieving an average 5.5% annual growth during the 2010-20 time frame of its Growth and Employment Strategy Paper, experts say.

“Cameroon needs to depart from over-reliance on imports and adopt the policy of encouraging local production, especially the transformation of its primary agricultural products,” said Dieudonné Essomba, economist and former director in the ministry of the economy.

Finance Minister Louis-Paul Motaze, however, said the government is not folding its arms in the face of the crises. The government aims to keep public debt below 50% of GDP during the current fiscal year, despite the CEMAC target threshold of about 70%.

Plans to lower prices for students

The government has also announced the intensification of price controls in 2023 on some consumer products, including alcohol, margarine, sugar, refined vegetable oils, pasta and soap, in addition to some goods used in the construction industry, such as cement, tiles, electric cabling and paint.

Following complaints by university authorities, the ministry of commerce has announced a move to bring food items to university communities at lower prices.

“We are seeking to organise some temporal measures with mobile markets through shopping vans around university vicinities, with goods sold at wholesale market prices,” the minister of trade announced recently.

Source: University World News