Bangui, 10 February: Violence in Central African Republic has seen many large traders and herders targeted and chased from the country, raising fears of a market collapse that would exacerbate the current food crisis, warned international aid organisations today.
Most of Bangui's food trade relies on around 40 large-scale wholesalers who import food from neighbouring countries and resell on to small traders. A survey conducted by Oxfam and Action Contre La Faim in Bangui's main wholesale market shows that fewer than ten now remain. Even those remaining said they would flee too if security does not improve quickly.
To make matters worse, 96 per cent of farmers have no access to seeds, according to a UN assessment, despite the beginning of the main planting season less than a month away. With a failed harvest, the existing crisis would worsen and last throughout the coming year.
The UN says that ninety per cent of people are already only eating once a day. Oxfam, Action Contre La Faim, International Medical Corps, Mercy Corps and Tearfund say they fear the situation could become much worse.
Action Contre La Faim's price monitoring shows that the cost of staple foods such as manioc (cassava) and groundnut has already increased. Manioc has risen by 20 per cent since November. Large wholesalers say that their sales have plummeted by 85-95 per cent over the last two months because people's incomes have dropped because of the conflict. Meat is now scarce in much of the capital because cattle herders have fled into the bush. Where it is available, meat is now twice as expensive as it was.
Philippe Conraud, Country Director of Oxfam in Central African Republic said the prolonged absence of wholesale traders would be catastrophic. The supply of staple foods could dry up and prices would rocket. "The Central African Republic risks facing a situation akin to a siege. As well as forcing people out of the country, violence and insecurity are stopping food from coming in, and people are unable to get enough food for their families. Many of those who have fled the attacks in Bangui were the backbone of the local economy. The consequences of failing to protect those who
remain could be disastrous for everyone."
Hundreds of food trucks are also stuck at the border with Cameroon because drivers fear being attacked by armed groups.
In one now-empty market where 37 groundnut retailers used to trade, only three remain. One of those traders said, "There is no security, everyone has left. Before there were up to 1000 bags in the warehouse, now there are none. I have already sent my wife and children to Chad, and when I have sold what I have left, I will leave too."
Christopher Rae, Emergency Team Lead of International Medical Corps said, "We still need to do everything we can to save the coming harvest but the reality is that it will inevitably be poor. This can only deepen and prolong the current crisis. We have to both scale up emergency support for hungry families now, as well as start preparing to provide sustained support for the year to come".
According to the United Nations, 1.3 million people are already in need of immediate food assistance, based on an assessment in Bangui and the north-west regions. The International Organisation for Migration recently estimated that 838,000 are displaced within the country - 414,000 in Bangui - since the beginning of December 2013. A further 245,000 Central Africans and 31,000 citizens of other countries have fled the country altogether.