African communities and forests continue to be threatened by irresponsible US company
Johannesburg/Amsterdam - Illegal land clearance, logging, bribery and intimidation are just some of the acts controversial US corporation Herakles Farms are accused of in the South West Region of Cameroon, as they continue to work on a large palm oil plantation despite not having a legal land lease. The company’s ham-fisted operations exemplify the dangers posed by bad palm oil projects in Africa to livelihoods and the continent’s forests.
New evidence from Greenpeace International suggests that Herakles Farms continued to clear forest throughout a suspension period imposed by the Cameroonian Government earlier this year, when all work was ordered to stop.
Herakles Farms stated it had ceased work and was obeying the suspension in a company press release on 18 May 2013, and it was lifted on 29 May. However, logs stacked in the concession area are stamped with dates including “26 May” and “28 May” – suggesting they were felled while the stop order was still in place.
“The company is continuing to clear and log in the concession area, and is now marking logs in a way that suggests that they are intended for commercial sale,” says Irčne Wabiwa, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.
Herakles Farms is not, however, licensed to operate as a commercial logger or timber trader in Cameroon and so any such sale would be illegal.
Local communities have been left in the dark over these developments, as Herakles Farms has failed to obtain their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), as required by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
People living in one village bordering the concession area claim their territorial forest, dating back generations, has been destroyed by the corporation even though they refused to cede land for the project. Greenpeace and local NGOs have been holding village meetings in the last month to discuss the project and how it may impact their lives and livelihoods. Many residents had never previously had access to such information.
Herakles Farms is attempting to stifle such debate. In August, a Greenpeace International campaigner along with members of local Cameroonian NGOs were ambushed and assaulted by residents of neighbouring Talangaye village - some of whom were Herakles employees - where the company has one of its palm oil nurseries. The campaigner was forced to hide in the forest for several hours, until locals could lead him to safety.
“These most recent violations of Cameroonian law threaten to undermine the ongoing implementation process of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) between the Cameroonian Government and the EU,” says Wabiwa. “The VPA is intended to promote good governance and fight illegal logging in the Cameroonian forest sector – meaning that Herakles Farms is an important test case for the EU and the needed credibility of this process.”
The potential social and environmental costs of ill-conceived palm oil projects go beyond Cameroon’s borders. Across the Congo Basin and West Africa, companies are eager to carve out large concession areas to feed the world’s growing demand for palm oil. Greenpeace is calling on palm oil companies to commit to zero deforestation policies that protect Africa’s remaining intact forest landscapes and the livelihoods of the people who live there. Greenpeace is asking that the EU and the Government of Cameroon set a positive example across the region by stopping Herakles Farms.
To read more on Greenpeace’s campaign against Herakles Farms, click here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/forests/africa/deforestation/
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