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Politics of Friday, 11 April 2014

Source: http://thestaronline.info

NGOs, CSO want Biya to reverse decree offering 20.000 hectares of land to Heracles farms


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President Paul Biya’s decree of November 25, awarding 20. 000 hectares of land to Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Company (SGSOC), an affiliate of Heracles Farms, an American firm operating in the South West region of Cameroon for the past three years, has not gone down well with some non-governmental and civil-society organizations.

The Centre for Environmental Protection and Development, known by its French acronym as CED, and the Network for the Fight against Hunger (RELUFA), shortly after the presidential decree issued a joint press release condemning it out-rightly.

The NGOs in their pronouncement, state that Biya has, by this decree, legalized the illegality which Heracles Farms has perpetrated in the South West region within this period. It further states that “at a glance, the many irregularities noted by a plethora of observers over the project have been corrected. What should be noted, however, is that this decree has paradoxically legalized the activities of SGSOC for the past years which have fallen short of the laws of Cameroon.

Meantime, Greenpeace and Think Tank Oakland Institute also made a joint statement that the approval of the project, although downsized, was alarming. “Reduction of size does not resolve the problems related to the palm oil project by Herakles Farms,” said Irene Wabiwa, campaigner with Greenpeace Africa. “It simply remains the wrong project in the wrong place, as the impact on communities’ livelihood and on the forests remains unacceptable.” Signent Samuel Nguiffo, Secretary-General of CED, and Jaff Napoleon, coordinator of RELUFA, indicated in their statement that President Biya’s decree did not state what will happen with the wood to be felled from the forest by the firm.

Another hot issue which the decree did not address, according to the NGOs, concerns the dissenting voices of the indigenes of the affected communities who initially argued that their consent was never sought for before the project was implanted in their community.

In effect, President Biya last Monday, signed three decrees attributing 19,843 hectares of arable land in the Nguti, Toko and Mundemba areas of the South West region to SGSOC /Herakles Farms. According to the decree, the firm will pay 198million CFA into the state treasury and invest 260 billion Francs CFA in the zone.

The convention which initially provided that Heracles Farms occupy 73hectares for a period of 99 years and pay an annual rent of 500Francs per hectare has been reviewed by the decree to 20hectares at an annual rate of 3330Francs per hectare.

The company we gathered intends to put in place a giant industrial plantation of oil palms and a refinery. Biya gave final approval to New York firm, Herakles Capital, to start work on a 20,000 hectare palm-oil plantation, despite opposition from some locals and conservation groups.

Herakles’ palm oil project in the South West forest region of Cameroon has been mired in controversy after environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace and WWF, said it violated Cameroon’s laws and could endanger wildlife and deprive locals of their livelihoods.

The firm had initially planned for a 73,000 hectare plantation, an area more than 10 times the size of Manhattan, but this was halted after protests. The government asked Herakles in June to reduce the size of the plantation to 20,000 hectares.

The government is also putting at risk its partnership with the European Union and Germany, who have a long-standing relationship with Cameroon to help protect biodiversity and promote good governance in the forest sector, the statement said.

Palm oil is the world’s most important vegetable oil, used in everything; from margarine and soap to biofuel, with annual global production worth of about $20 billion.

Critics of large palm-oil plantation projects in Africa say it is part of a broader trend of land grabs in the continent, rich in farmable land, by companies struggling to increase global agricultural production as demands and prices rise.

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