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Cameroon: Renewed market boosts local economy and benefits Nigerian refugees

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Zambai market reopened in January after a three-month renovation. © UNDP

On busy days, more than 10,000 people congregate at the newly-renovated Zamaï market in Mokolo city in Cameroon’s Far North Region, along Nigeria’s western border, to trade in cattle, greens and crafts.

The market re-opened this past January after a USD 32,000 three-month refurbishment process that saw a new hangar built with stalls for meat storage and trade, a livestock enclosure to replace worn out fences, and a mended water source.

The renewed facilities have boosted trade at the market that serves both Cameroonians and Nigerians, including refugees from the nearby Minawao camp, home to 55,194 Nigerians seeking shelter from Boko Haram attacks.

Owing to the area’s strong agricultural tradition, Zamaï also attracts traders from cities as far as Douala, in the south of the country. Cattle, poultry and sheep can now be bought alongside sorghum, sweet potato and corn at from 2,000-3,000 vendors at the revamped market.

"Before the implementation of the project this was just a vast area where buyers and cattle vendors met to trade,” says Saïbou Ousman, the market’s lead veterinarian. “With the construction of the stockyard, business is getting better organized, livestock and quality control are provided at the entrance and we now have the data on the number of cattle sold.”

The Zamaï market renewal was part of an early recovery programme set up by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the governments of Cameroon and Japan in 2015 to strengthen emergency preparedness in the country’s northern region.

Prior to the refurbishment, Zamaï operated in precarious conditions. Even though the market is over 40 years old, infrastructure was nearly non-existent.

Merchants stood in makeshift tents under the sun and lack of water and sanitation jeopardized food safety. Trade also took place in a very informal setting, with little control over financial flows, prices and revenue.

”Farmers now pay for their expenses with no exception and revenues increase each market day. Activity is efficiently organized in comparison to the period preceding the project and this is appealing to many farmers,” said Ousman.

He believes the market is, nonetheless, not living up to its potential yet. “We would also love to have a well and a proper slaughterhouse,’’ he adds, with an eye on the future.