In the southwest region of Cameroon, a New York-based agri-corporation, Herakles Farms, its local subsidiary SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), and a US non-profit organization All for Africa are involved in a land deal that is about to destroy over 70,000 hectares (300 square miles) of rainforest and the livelihoods of thousands of rural Cameroonians. If the project goes forward, farmland and forest will be replaced by a giant palm oil plantation.
The concession concerns the homelands of the Oroko, Bakossi, and Upper Bayang peoples in the Ndian, Kupé-Manengouba, and Manyu divisions of Cameroon. This plantation will have major impacts on up to 45,000 Indigenous Peoples in 88 villages who are dependent on the forest for their livelihoods. The giant plantation will also fragment and isolate the region’s protected areas, including Korup National Park, Bakossi National Park, Banyang Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary, Nta Ali Forest Reserve, and Rumpi Hills Forest Reserve.
Herakles Farms claims that the “vast majority of the concession is secondary and degraded forest” and that the concession area was selected because it was located on “land that had been previously logged.” Yet, ground, aerial and satellite surveys have shown this to be untrue. Rather, areas that have been logged have been done so selectively and the forest remains largely intact. Thus, Herakles Farms will be cutting down dense, high canopy tropical rainforest. The area proposed for the plantation is of exceptional ecological richness and diversity. It sits in one of the largest surviving tracts of lowland forest in the Gulf of Guinea forests of West Africa. Many groups of endemic animal species would be imperiled by the project. In March 2012, a group of 11 scientists from leading academic and research institutions around the world issued an open letter in opposition to the proposed plantation and expressing deep concern for the plantation’s biological impact.
As a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the government of Cameroon is obligated to gain the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples for projects that may affect them. Notwithstanding, Herakles has moved forward despite widespread opposition to the project. Protests against Herakles Farms have erupted in several areas. Petitions and letters from local villagers and local leadership, representing thousands of individuals, have decried the activities of Herakles Farms. Locals cite an alarming lack of transparency, their lack of consent, the illegal demarcation and clearing of land and the biological, economic, and cultural importance of the area as reasons for opposing the project. A recent film and report provide additional evidence of this widespread opposition. Despite this evidence, Herakles Farms maintains their stance that the project enjoys an “outpouring of support from communities.”
Disregarding the local opposition, Herakles Farms has already moved forward with the removal of the rainforest for the establishment of three tree nurseries. In order to move more rapidly on their project, the company recently pulled out of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a certification scheme designed to promote global social and environmental standards for palm oil production. Without such international oversight, the company now hopes to accelerate the development of the plantation.
Herakles Farms’ insists it wants to “address a dire humanitarian need,” and would contribute to poverty reduction and economic development in Cameroon. But locals feel they stand to benefit very little from this project and claim that they will be better off and earn much more income by maintaining their current economic activities and livelihoods instead of being turned into low-paid farm workers. Rather than erasing local farmers from the map with this giant plantation, there is room for investments and policies that will effectively support local farmers, through provision of public goods, infrastructure, and adequate extension services.
By taking farmland, Herakles Farms will contribute to economic displacement of the local population. Land is the most valuable asset local people have in this area. If Herakles Farms believes that it is truly addressing a “dire humanitarian need” why is the company taking people’s most valuable asset?
All for Africa has promoted this project as part of its “Palm out Poverty” campaign and has deceitfully advertised it to donors as being environmentally and socially responsible and sustainable. The NGO is currently fund raising to plant 1 million palm trees as part of this project, but has failed to tell its donors and supporters about the local opposition, the destruction of farmland, and the massive deforestation it will create.
The Government of Cameroon has offered Herakles Farms very low rental fees (less than a dollar per hectare), exemptions from all export duties for the next 99 years, exemption from the application of national laws, and even affords the company power to "search, apprehend, detain, exclude, and evict" anyone trespassing on their leased land.
The power that the government has bestowed upon Herakles denies the Indigenous Peoples of this region the right to free movement on ancestral lands as guaranteed to them in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cameroon is a signatory. The local people are claiming their rights are being violated and ask for the voice of the international community to join theirs in urging decision-makers to listen.
There are known and affordable alternatives to this industrial project if one wants to really promote sustainable agriculture and human development in the area. In the three Herakles Farms’ nurseries, thousands of seedlings are ready to be planted. If the company truly wants to promote sustainable agriculture, it must hand over these seedlings to the local farmers and allow them to grow palm in a sustainable way, which should rely on diversified and environment friendly agricultural production.
Please join us in sending a powerful message to Herakles Farms and All for Africa demanding they stop destroying tropical rainforest and local livelihoods. Ask the Government of Cameroon to listen to the voices of the Cameroonian people and immediately stop Herakles Farms’ plans for this palm oil plantation.