Strengthening Local Markets in Cameroon

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Early each morning, Clara makes her way from her home in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest Region, to the local market. Here, she spends her day selling food and agricultural items to her neighbors and surrounding communities.

While business is currently going well, this was not always the case.

woman in her market stall in Cameroon

Clara, a participant in the ACER II project, waits to greet customers at her market stall in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest Region. Photo by Louis Blaise Djilo for CRS  

Clara’s husband died seven years ago, leaving her to care for their three children and to take over paying for their rented apartment. This made it difficult to provide for her family and nearly impossible to save money or invest in her business. Then violence broke out in 2017, disrupting supply chains and devastating the local economy.

Many food and household items became scarce, as traffic into the area was restricted due to security concerns. Prices skyrocketed for those goods that remained available, leaving most families unable to afford them. Struggling to keep the shelves stocked, Clara and many other vendors quickly lost customers. At the same time, they found it increasingly difficult to buy food and other basic necessities. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 further exacerbated the situation for business owners, as markets were shut down and borders closed.

Despite these challenges, Clara did her best to keep her shop running—even in a reduced capacity.

She finally caught a break in April 2021 with the start of the Anglophone Crisis Emergency Response II, or ACER II, project, which is designed to provide emergency food and non-food assistance to more than 16,500 vulnerable displaced people and host community members from 32 communities in the region. Clara saw this as a new opportunity to grow her business and increase her capital.

As part of the program, Clara was able to connect with both current and former participants, who have since become regular customers. They now come to her shop to purchase food using electronic vouchers.

The use of the electronic vouchers provides families with the flexibility to customize the quantity, size and quality of such items, according to their specific needs and preferences. Participants in ACER II also receive monthly credit to purchase soap and were able to purchase two reusable cloth masks at the beginning of the project, as part of the fight against COVID-19.

"We are very pleased that this program was designed to help not only the most vulnerable displaced families and host community members, but also local vendors, who also have needs and who are not always targeted for assistance," says Caroline Agalheir, country representative for CRS in Cameroon and Chad. "This approach allows us to reach more people, and to have an even greater impact on communities as a whole."

Thanks to the increased business, Clara is once again able to save money. This helps pay her children’s school fees and has allowed her to purchase land to build her own home on. She is now able to buy food items directly from suppliers, without having to borrow from them or take out loans, as she previously had. Her profits have increased, enabling her to hire help. Clara now employs workers to help run her business, which allows her to spend more time with her family and also helps build the local economy.

“I will always be grateful to the ACER II project and the donors—it has made a great difference in my life!” Clara says.

The ACER II project builds on the achievements and lessons learned from the USAID-funded ACER and Emergency Market-Based Food and Non-Food Item Support projects, implemented by CRS and our partners from May 1, 2019, to March 31, 2021. The ACER project supported 27,762 vulnerable displaced people and host community members from 3,917 households in the Mezam division of Cameroon’s Northwest Region, while the previous emergency market‑based project assisted 29,876 individuals from 3,904 different households.