January 12 is still very much fresh in the minds of Cameroonians following the assurances of the country’s main sugar producing company, SOSUCAM. The company’s officials were clear in their declaration. The sugar season has started and our machines are turning unperturbed, they announced, stating inter alia that production will stabilise at 700 tonnes daily. This amount they said, will be enough to satisfy demand and there is no room for fear of any shortage. In fact, they announced a steady supply for the product at least for the next six months, that is, half a year. From every indication, SOSUCAM justified its optimism on the strength of the new investment. The Mbandjock/Nkoteng-based Company had just undertaken important investments to step up the capacity of its machines following the extension of its plantations. Wholesalers and retailers were quite aware of these changes and equally gave their kudos, stating that the skies are clear for the sugar production.
Little had the consumers settled to digest the good news than the same actors who waited their appetite brought out the other side of their colour. The Minister of Trade in a bid to ensure continuity in the new sugar dispensation, convened a meeting in which actors in that sector had to sign a price stabilisation agreement with government like those in other basic products have been doing. But things turned rather sour when officials of SOSUCAM refused to attend the meeting, leaving the documents of the agreement at the mercy of the Minister.
Of course, like all actions give birth to all sorts of interpretations, rumours came out to the fact that SOSUCAM was planning to instil artificial scarcity in order to up prices. Whether or not that was true, is another question. But, if that were not true, how come a company that announced barely a month it was doing fine, could all of a sudden adopt such an ungentle way of behaviour? The suspicion seemed to be justified when wholesalers and big consumers complained of rupture in stock. Even agro-industries that had signed an agreement with SOSUCAM complained of having significant deficit.
The meeting with the Minister of Trade in which SOSUCAM officials finally participated last Wednesday brought out the bitter part of the sugar imbroglio when actors went on each other’s throat with accusations and counter accusations. While this was happening, representatives of consumer associations vented their anger blaming the situation of the gluttony of the main supplier. They accused SOSUCAM of hiding the truth whereas it is clear the company had gone for bigger profit in neighbouring countries where the product sells more than 100 per cent higher than in Cameroon. Three countries featured in this deal: Chad, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea.
For many who have been observant, this is certainly not the first time a controversy is surrounding this important product. Worthy of not is equally the fact that SOSUCAM is constantly on the neck of other stakeholders for stifling its business. On several occasions, authorities have accused government of doing little to protect sugar produced in the country from competition with imported sugar. They have often accused other producing companies for discreetly exporting the product to neighbouring countries. These, of course are genuine accusations but these are stifled by the fact that the same company that has been on other’s necks, is equally accused of the same crime.