Cameroon: WFP cash assistance powers women’s business dreams
By Richard ATEM
In conflict-affected regions of Cameroon, WFP’s cash assistance is helping women cope with the socioeconomic impact of conflict through investment in small businesses.
Brendaline wakes up every day at about 5 a.m. in order to catch the butchers before the other buyam sellams (small retailers) come to crowd the stalls. She sells roast pork by the roadside to help meet her family’s needs. The fate of her once steadily growing business hangs in the balance because of frequent security-related lockdowns in the Northwest and and Southwest regions including Bamenda where she lives.
Fighting broke out between government forces and non-state armed groups in 2016. Since then, regularly effected ‘ghost towns’ on Mondays and intermittent lockdowns have not only hampered humanitarian access, raising protection concerns for women and children, but have also affected small businesses as well.
Brendaline started her business in 2019 with WFP’s support. She had just fled violence in Bafut, her home village, 25 kilometres from the main Northwest town of Bamenda. Raising her four children, she had to sustain a wider family of eight people who had fled Bafut with her.
When she arrived Bamenda, feeding and shelter were a major challenge. “There were days when we couldn’t even afford a meal and would have to spread relatives among other family members in town to find sleeping space,” she recalls.
She was enrolled into WFP’s food assistance programme in 2019 and began receiving cash to buy food to sustain the nutritional needs of her family.
After receiving her monthly cash assistance, she would hurry to the local markets and buy her favorite food. Brendaline would also put aside a little portion of the money to buy a few kilograms of pork from the butchers to sell in the evenings under a small stall close to where she lives.
“The butchers were always kind to me,” says Brendaline. “I would pay for a kilogram of pork, but they would also give me the offal.”
Brendaline would take the offal with her family and roast the regular meat to sell. For every kilogram that costs around US$5, leaving her profit of around US$1.
Over the span of nearly two years, she has steadily grown her business and is now able to buy a whole pig. She has enrolled two of her kids in school. “Even on very bad days, we are sure of at least one major meal to keep us going,” she says. “My hope is to grow, one day, the pigs myself, so I can increase my profit margins and not have to depend on anyone for support”.
Many participants in WFP’s cash assistance programme have been able to engage in small businesses. “I do not have to depend on anyone to meet my nutrition needs,” says Brendaline. “But if this crisis persists, then we’ll continue to depend on WFP.” Her ultimate desire is for “the crisis to end, so we can reap the fruits of our labour.”
WFP cash assistance in the Northwest and Southwest regions are supported by the generous donations of European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.