The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous working to protect the communities and wildlife threatened by a palm oil plantation in Cameroon. Below my colleague Irene Wabiwa, on the ground in Cameroon, gives a great account of the struggle against Herakles Farms and the current state of our campaign.
There was dancing in the streets of Mundemba and Fabe when the news came two weeks ago that the Cameroonian government had suspended Herakles Farms’ forest clearing operations. Communities in this region of South West Cameroon, who had feared that they would lose their lands and their livelihoods to Herakles’ industrial palm oil plantation, now believed that their forest had been saved. The news was also welcomed, if slightly less exuberantly, by Cameroonian NGOs and international agencies in the capital, Yaoundé. I met with many key actors who described the suspension as a brave and right decision which will make Cameroon’s business climate more attractive for international investors. By suspending this project, which would have devastating social and environmental consequences, the government was reinforcing its credibility in the eyes of the international community. So I, like many others, was shocked to learn that the suspension had been lifted last week, without a single word of explanation.
The allegations of corruption and violations of national law that have been fired at Herakles Farms’ project since its inception have not been addressed, let alone resolved. These allegations were described in detail in a report launched by Greenpeace International and the Oakland Institute in the same week that the suspension order was made public. Through a series of internal company communications, the report demonstrated how Herakles Farms has systematically mislead the government and investors. These documents showed that the company apparently knew it was operating in Cameroon without all required permits and authorizations, and that bribery may have been used in the attempt to gain consent for the project.
Recently, it seems increasingly clear that the company is also facing serious cash flow issues. This means that the company is not a viable long-term development partner, and will not be able to deliver on all the promises that it has made to local communities, the government and investors.
By enforcing the suspension, the Cameroonian government had shown that it was putting the interests of its own people above those of foreign companies. By reversing it, the communities who were dancing with joy only two weeks ago now feel frustrated and abandoned.
Greenpeace is calling on the Cameroonian government to stop this project for good, and for a moratorium on the allocation of all large-scale land concessions in Cameroon until safeguards are introduced to protect the livelihoods of local communities and the forests on which they depend.