The impacts of agri-business in Cameroon laid bare

SudCam-Hevea PO and Rubber 150

Community mapping around new agricultural plantations in southern Cameroon has shown the extent to which the concession overlaps with the customary lands and resources of local communities, severely restricting their livelihoods and raising further fears about the impacts of agribusiness in the country.

In 2013, RFUK’s Seeds of Destruction report charted how the Congo Basin rainforest is the new frontier for the production of palm oil and other commodities. With an ever increasing global demand, investors are turning to the region, from where the oil palm originates. Central African governments see these investments as fundamental to their development plans, and particularly in Cameroon where the number and scale of land transactions for this purpose in recent years is unprecedented.

However, there is growing evidence that such large-scale projects are seriously impoverishing rural populations, as well as harming their environment. New maps from around the palm oil and rubber concessions being developed by the company the Sudcam-Heve, in the Dja-Lobo department of southern Cameroon, has shown widespread dispossession of community lands and resources, including those of indigenous Baka people. The communities have decried very poor or non-existent consultation by the company, the subsequent clearing of thousands of hectares of forest and demolishing of settlements, graves and farms. Communities say there has been wholly inadequate compensation, provisions to protect their livelihood, and no benefits from the plantations.

This case forms only part of a wider and worrying trend in the region. Land is being handed out to agro-industrial companies without national land use management plans and often in disregard to both customary land rights and sustainability considerations, and in all cases without the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of local communities. While foreign investors are often given generous incentives in the form of very low land lease prices and huge tax breaks, limiting their contribution to the national economy, benefits at the local level are typically meagre, especially as most of the palm oil will be exported and therefore will not contribute to local food security.

Ultimately, land conflicts of this kind will only intensify unless governments and donors commit to reforms protecting community rights, supporting alternative modes of production that favour small-holders and integrating these into wider land-use planning processes.

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