Herakles Farms’ oil palm nurseries, 2011 (Photo SAVE)
The proposed 76,000 hectare palm oil plantation in Southwest Cameroon by New York based Herakles Farms has been a major source of controversy since the project was announced in 2009.
Recently, the controversy was centered on the Cameroonian government’s decision to lift a suspension of the project with no explanation after issuing it just two weeks earlier. The suspension followed frequent protests by human rights organizations, environmental groups and the Bassossi, Upper Balong, Nguti, Oroko, Bakossi, and Upper Bayang Indigenous Peoples.
Now the local Indigenous communities–who are faced with displacement and the loss of their forest and livelihoods–are hearing reports that Herakles Farms’ Cameroonian subsidiary, Sithe Global-Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG-SOC), is looking to sell off its existing plantations rather than shut down completely.
Chief Tabi Napolean of Baro-Upper Balong, one of the villages located in the project area, has said that his people were never informed about the realities of the scheme. In an article from the Thompson Reuters Foundation, Chief Tabi Napolean stated that “We were only told a plantation was coming to our community, bringing employment opportunities to our youths. Now we realize our forest – which is our main source of living – is gradually being destroyed, putting the future of our children in jeopardy”.
A report issued by Nature Cameroon, Struggle to Economise Future Environment (SEFE), and Green Peace says that Herakles is in the process of selling its nurseries to PAMOL, a state-owned palm oil company. Nasako Besingi, director of SEFE, says “Herakles Farms – which has leased land from the government for a period of 99 years – plans to sell off its plantations in 2017 to interested investors in a move that would completely quash the Indigenous community’s hope of regaining ownership of the land”.
The affected communities in Nguti division nevertheless believe that their chances of stopping the project remain strong. This is because of a recent study by Dschang University, in collaboration with the University of Gottingen and supported by Green Peace International, SAVE Wildlife and WWF Germany. Accordig to the study, Herakles’ claim that the project is of little conservation value is a “severe misrepresentation”. The research found that the area is home to endangered chimpanzees, other primates, fish species and forest elephants.
A recent tour by Nature Cameroon, SEFE, and Green Peace also found evidence of illegal logging in the massive concession area. Irene Wabiwa, Forest Campaigner at Green Peace states that, Herakles Farms announced the suspension in a press release on May 18 and the suspension was lifted on May 29. However, during this tour, photos were taken of logs stacked in the concession area and stamped with “May 22”, implying they were cut down during the suspension. The press release Herakles issued announcing the suspension ironically states that Herakles “always has and will comply fully and transparently with government regulations and force”.
The regent of an affected village, Adolf Ebong Ndbe has said “How can they enter our land without Permission? In the future we are worried that our children will not even get to see the animals that live in the area.”
Now, just this week, the Divisional Officer of Nguti Subdivision suspended the activities of Nature Cameroon. Referring to ‘incitement to rebellion and disturbance of public order” the suspension prohibits the local organization–involved in protection and conservation of the environment–from voicing the displeasure that local communities have with the project.
The Cameroonian government has said it is reviewing the Establishment Convention signed in 2009 between then Minister of Plan and Regional Development, Louis Paul Motaze and SG SOC.