Ekondo-Titi: The Path of Economic Failure
In the South West of Cameroon, Ekondo–Titi was once considered the country’s breadbasket. But for the past decade, the former economic hub has been on a downward spiral to regression. While the government fights to increase commodities from the area, they continue to overlook the most important factor: getting there.It should only take one and a half hours to drive the 80kilometres from Kumba, the oldest town in the southwest region of Cameroon to the coastal city of Ekondo-Titi. However, due to the deplorable roads, the drive takes twice as long - a tiring and frustrating journey.
The small cars weighed down by people and goods rock back and forth. More often than not the cars get stuck in the ever-eroding potholes, forcing passengers to alight and push the car forward while the driver presses down the accelerator, firmly gripping the steering wheel.
Martin Njume has been plying the Kumba-Ekondo-titi road over the last decade. He had to adapt his car for this purpose: “My first trip was traumatic, I had to take my car to the garage the same day, and the only way I could remain in this transportation business was adapting my car to the bad roads,” he says. “My car engine has been modified and the shocks replaced. It takes an experienced driver to drive to Ekondo-Titi.”
The road to Ekondo-Titi has never been tarred before. It is only recently that the government reluctantly included the grading of the road as one of its future projects, due to its proximity to the Bakassi peninsula, which is abundantly rich in oil.
But while the region waits to gain from the construction of the stretch, cultivated crops are going to waste. Ekondo-Titi is predominantly an agricultural zone, endowed with rich black soil, conducive for the cultivation of vegetables, coco yams, and plantains.
Anita Itoe is a subsistence farmer here.
She explains that it quite frustrating when she cannot sell her vegetables and crops. ‘I spend close to six hours in the farms daily during the planting season,” she says. “When the crops are harvested, they are stockpiled in the villages due to lack of farm to market roads to transport them to the cities. My vegetables get rotten and there is no market for my yams and plantains since almost everybody is cultivating the same crops.”
And it isn't just that. Palm tree plantations line the roads near Ekondo-Titi. The region is the major producer of palm oil in Cameroon supplying to all the regions of the country. The headquarters of palm oil industry (PAMOL Ltd) is located here and it is in competition with many local oil mills. Palm oil is mainly used for cooking and it a raw material for the soap companies. But while Cameroonians fight for palm oil in the rest of the country, here it lies stocked in the mills - creating food security problems in the rest of the country.
During the rainy season, the roads become terribly bad, muddy and slippery for any vehicle to drive through and the potholes deeper than before. Even the heavy trucks and cars adapted to drive through the roads cannot reach the markets.
And when this happens, all economic activities seems to come to a standstill. The companies are paralyzed and cannot produce to full capacity, some workers become technically unemployed and consumers are faced with high prices in the markets.
High demand, high prices
The scarcity of palm oil in the marketsnot only increases
ITS price in the local markets, causing other companies to step up their prices. The frequent increase in prices of palm oil every year in Ekondo titi has led to artificial scarcity (speculation) during the dry season. 20 liters of palm oil bought at 14.000 CFA (28 US$)during the dry season, is sold at 18.000 CFA (36 $) in the rainy season. That is traders buy oil at the end of the dry season stock it in their stores and sells it very expensive during the rainy season.
But while this affects many Cameroonians outside of the region, other people are benefiting from the country’s poor road conditions. Ekondo-titi is 3 hours from the next biggest city by truck, but only 2hours from Nigeria by boat. At the Ekondo-Titi beach, engine boats take off to Nigerian carrying both passengers and goods every hour. When the roads are closed, the production of palm oil and perishable goods is channeled to Nigeria by sea.