Friday, January 14, 2011

Cameroon: Discrimination and corruption taint state aid to farmers

Some of Cameroon’s state aid to farmers does not reach those it is meant for.  The agriculture ministry last April handed 20 million francs CFA to 20 young representatives of  Community Farmers Groups (CFG) in  the country’s central region.

 Some of those had not even started work on a farm.
 Among them was Armand Ondobo Mbida, 19, from Mefou Akono. He received a cheque of one million francs CFA for the New Generation CFG, although he is a mere member of the group and does not run it.
 Ondobo Mbida works as a technician apprentice in a Yaounde electronic appliances repair workshop.
 Yet, the government says that farmers must be actually producing before claiming state aid. “We do not support those who intend to produce.  We help those who are producing, ” said Martial Nkoulou, the coordinator of the state plan to help young farmers.
 Asked what he intended to do with the money, Ondobo Mbida said: “I’m going to start  working and encourage (CFG) colleagues to follow suit…I’ll plant cocoa, rice and cassava.”
 The New Generation CFG was not created by young people but by Helene Missili, aka Mama Douala, a woman believed to have close contacts with ministry officials who can help in obtaining subsidies.
 Ondobo Mbida regards her as his mother, and says she and her husband actually run the CFG.
 But a visit to Ngoumou, a few dozen  kms (miles) from Yaounde,  exposed doubts about the very existence of the CFG.
 ”I do  not know the CFG called New Generation,” said Sebastien Felix Noah, the head of farmers, breeders and craftsmen organisations in Ngoumou.
 ”We have about 35 active CFGs. Many are not working. Some CFG were created when subsidies were mentioned. If there are no subsidies, they only exist in suitcases,” he said.
 He added he did not know either the Jca Nkong Agog CFG, from Mefou Akono, which also received one million CFA francs.
 How CFGs are picked out for state aid and subsidy opportunities is not being clearly explained to genuine farmers, Felix Noah said.
 One may suspect that only a  small part of 116 million CFA francs to be distributed among Cameroon’s CFGs this year will effectively go to develop farming.
 In August 2009, the National Anti-Corruption Committee accused 47 agriculture ministry officials of corruption and embezzlement. Among the charges was granting subsidies to fictitious CFGs.

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