Import-Substitution: Right Solutions Required

National discourse over the last few years has been on the importance of less imports, at least of goods which can be produced in the country. Enshrining the vision under the Import-Substitution policy has resulted in a number of public declarations and steps taken to ensure that Cameroon reverses the negative trade balances that has characterised relations with several countries. This is not a new idea Cameroon is waking up to.     
Already in 2010 when Cameroon organised the 50th Anniversary of the Independence and Reunification of the country, an international conference, Africa 21 from 17-18 May, 2010 came up with the Yaounde Declaration which clearly underlined: “That the ongoing African renaissance should be accompanied notably by the development of food crops. Africa should no longer import food to eat; it should, if necessary, temporarily protect its agriculture.” External shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the Russo-Ukrainian war and others have demonstrated how true the call made about a decade ago for food self-sufficiency in Africa has been neglected. Cameroon being Africa in miniature has not been different.     
In spite of efforts to resist such external and internal shocks over the years to maintain the economy on track, government has equally had to face the challenge of getting administrative officials and some state functionaries to do the right thing. Implementing certain decisions has often suffered in the hands of those taking advantage of their positions to either hijack laudable initiatives or indulge in delay tactics and managerial lop-sidedness that only help to hold the country down. This is where the Presidential announcement of “The Three-Year Integrated Import Substitution Plan for 2024-2026,” which President Paul Biya made during his end-of-year address to the nation on 31 December, 2023 must be taken seriously. The Head of State noted that the move is part of efforts to save scarce foreign exchange. Explaining further that: “This plan should help to reduce the negative impact of imports on our trade balance by strengthening our food sovereignty. Its deficit is estimated at just over 1 500 billion CFA Francs per year.” Talking about the trade balance of the country, the National Institute of Statistics stated recently that, “In the first half of 2021, the trade balance deficit widened further by 52 billion CFA Francs (up 7.5%) compared to the first half of 2020 and stood at 744 billion CFA Francs. This increase in the trade deficit resulted from the increase in imports of 15.4% compared to the first half of 2020; the 21.5% increase in export earnings recorded over the same period was not sufficient to cover import expenditure.” By continuing to import basic necessities like fish, rice, flour, wheat, and so on when the country can produce these same items, remains a puzzle to many.     
As the bread-basket of the Central African Sub-region, Cameroon has the potential to increase productivity at several levels because the market exists both locally and beyond. But, the unfortunate situation whereby some officials continue to obstruct measures intended to improve on the living standards of the population has been so frustrating. Many food processing units that have seen the light of day in some parts of the country only witnessed stillbirth either because some people did not see their personal interest in the projects to give the greenlight for the projects to progress.     
With the fiscal year just beginning, several projects across the country will be expected in the next weeks and months to take shape and produce results. Projections indicate that if the “Three-Year Integrated Import Substitution Plan for 2024-2026” effectively gets off the ground, it could permit the country to economise FCFA 136 billion annually. It will be interesting to see how recent moves like the inauguration of the first-ever flour processing plant in Cameroon in Kribi, South Region on 10 January, 2024 by the Minister of Mines, Indust...



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