Cameroon’s Forest Communities Threatened by Monster Palm Oil Project

Press release - February 19, 2013
Johannesburg, 19 February 2013 – A controversial proposed palm oil plantation in Cameroon by New York-based agribusiness Herakles Farms, threatens the livelihoods of communities living in the coastal rainforest of Cameroon, and would release massive carbon emissions, according to new investigations from Greenpeace USA.

“The Herakles Farms project can be seen very much as part of a wider land grab in Africa. The company sees only the opportunity to make money, ignoring the fact they will destroy a rainforest area of great biodiversity and to the detriment of the livelihoods of local people,” says Irene Wabiwa, Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

Released today, Herakles Farms in Cameroon: A showcase in bad palm oil production details how at least 85% of the 73,000-hectare concession area in the Southwest Region of Cameroon is dense natural forest.  This means up to 9.5 million tonnes of carbon would be released into the atmosphere were the area flattened, which is the equivalent of all the carbon emitted in one year by nearly 7 million cars [1].

The report details how Herakles is trying to push the project through despite the company being in contravention of national law, despite large discrepancies in its environmental impact study and despite opposition from residents.

“We have been working in this area for 17 years, the proposed plantation is located between five protected areas and any attempt to open it up will have catastrophic effects for the environment,” said Nasako Besingi, Director of the Cameroonian NGO, SEFE, which has campaigned against the project for several years.

Opponents to the project in Cameroon, including Besingi have been subjected to intimidation and arbitrary arrest. 

The concession area, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 football fields, is home to endangered species such as the Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee subspecies, the Forest Elephant and the Drill as well as numerous other rare amphibians, birds and animals.

"Herakles Farms has named Nestle, Unilever, McDonalds and Walmart as potential customers for its palm oil, which is impossible. These companies have committed to sourcing policies which bar them from buying palm oil from companies like Herakles,” said Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA.

Herakles Farms’ subsidiary in Cameroon SGSOC withdrew its membership from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, last year displaying an inability to meet even the most basic and imperfect standards of palm oil certification.

Palm oil production in sub-Saharan Africa has expanded greatly in recent years and when done well could potentially produce a needed boost for both national and local economies. But when done badly it can destroy areas of natural beauty and the livelihoods of local farmers.

Notes to editors:

1. Assuming 151 Mg C/ha (above ground biomass and below ground biomass) for canopy cover greater than 30 % (Saatchi et al. 2011. PNAS 108:9899-9904), which would be the case for the closed canopy forest in the concession area. Based on US Environmental Protection Agency estimates of carbon produced by one car in a year 1.39 tonnes of: www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f11041.pdf

2. The Herakles Farms Crime File can be downloaded here: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center/reports/Herakles-Farms-in-Cameroon/

3. Greenpeace International’s briefing paper on palm oil production can be found here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/Campaign-reports/Forests-Reports/Palm-Oils-New-Frontier/

Media contacts:

Rolf Skar, Forests Campaign Director, Greenpeace USA, mobile: +1 415.533.2888  

Irene Wabiwa, Forests Campaigner, Greenpeace Africa, phone: +243 997 853 171