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Land grabbing: farmers and natural habitats in Cameroon threatened by palm oil

In Cameroon one of the African Countries that is most exposed to land-grabbing, the ongoing tensions between the local south-western communities and a US multinational that intends to clear thousands of hectares of rainforest to create a palm oil plantation, epitomize this phenomenon. The land loan contract will expire at the end of November: 244 farmers filed two court complaints and an international petition calling upon the Cameroon government to halt the project.

Cameroon is one of the African countries that is most exposed to land grabbing by multinational agribusinesses and foreign and local governments. According to a study conducted by Right and Resources Initiatives, 10 of the 22 million hectares of Cameroon’s forests have already been assigned for mining or agricultural exploitation. More than 1 million have been destined to monocultures, also owing to increasing palm oil demand in Western societies. One of the most serious episodes – developments are expected by the end of November – is the court appeal filed by 244 farmers against a massive project for a palm oil plantation of 20 thousand hectares in the South-western provinces. The concession was signed in 2009 by Sgsoc (Sithe global sustainable oil Cameroon), initially owned by the US multinational Herakles Farmsiù. The project envisages the destruction of the rainforests, endangering the natural habitat of many animal species – including elephants, chimpanzees, baboons, and other rare monkeys – but most significantly sparking off tensions in local communities: thousands of peasants who lived in harmony with the land for centuries. The provisional lease of the land will expire November 25th. Within that date the government of will have to take a decision for the future of its forests and for the protection of the ecosystem of the entire area that borders on Korup national park. Environmental activists have already launched an international campaign in support of the struggle of farmers living in local villages. The petition urges national authorities not to renew the lease, while a video with testimonies of local villagers documents the ongoing situation. It is widely hoped that Cameroon’s government will stop the project.

Illegality, abuse and lies. Since the beginning the project was associated with lawlessness, lies and abuses against farmers. Like every economic initiative that promises to bring development while exploiting natural resources, also here

Many inhabitants had given away their plots of land in exchange for infrastructure such as schools, roads, hospitals, electricity. Nothing of this was accomplished over the past years.

Some farmers working for the company did not even receive their wages. In addition, many trees were cut without the necessary government authorizations. All of this occurred without the involvement of the local communities in consultation and decision-making processes.

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Denunciation by activists and Churches. In the villages of Babensi and Nguti, for example, “Farmers fear that the project will destroy their crops,” reported an activist of Greenpeace Africa, Sylvie Diacbou Deugou. To demonstrate their determination, 244 farmers filed two collective complaints to the Court of First Instance in Bangem. According to Greenpeace it could be “a first step to restore justice in these communities.” “As Cameroonians and Africans we have a responsibility to protect our resources – he said – to make sure that our heritage is not destroyed or stolen.” Even the West African Churches (ACERAC) the organism chaired by Monsignor Samuel Kleda, Archbishop of Douala, President of the Bishops Conference of Cameroon, through the respective Commissions for Justice and Peace, has long denounced the issue of land grabbing:

“The anarchic exploitation of natural resources, land-grabbing, is a major challenge” faced by Christian communities in Africa.

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