Sinochem International’s murky rubber plantation deals are threatening a Cameroon UNESCO world heritage site. 

On the fringes of one of the world's most precious and delicate areas of pristine rainforest, home to an exceptional diversity of plant and animal life, rubber plantations are expanding with little to no regulation. 

 

Coastal Rainforest in Cameroon

A rainbow is seen above the coastal rainforest of Cameroon.

 

An investigation conducted by Greenpeace East Asia and Greenpeace Africa has revealed that China's state-owned company, Sinochem Group, (and its stock-listed international subsidiary) are involved in the ongoing destruction of over 3000 ha of pristine central African rainforest.

The area of former rainforest, which was felled to make room for rubber and palm oil plantations, abut and share the same ecosystem as the Dja Faunal Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inspectors have been denied access to the site, and UNESCO warnings and requests for better protection overlooked and left unfulfilled.

Forest Clearing in Cameroon

Clearing of trees in a concession area for a plantation

 

The Dja Faunal Reserve is one of Africa's largest and best preserved rainforests. Around 90% of the forest is totally free of human disturbance. It has an exceptionally rich biodiversity which supports a wide variety of animals. Of the 107 mammals which call the Dja Faunal Reserve home, a total of five are listed as endangered.

Chimpanzee resting in it's nest

 

It is on the borders of this world treasure that China's Sinochem, through the Singaporean company GMG Global Ltd. (of which Sinochem is majority owner) and the joint venture Sud-Cameroun Hévéa SA (Hévéa Sud), has been rapidly expanding its rubber and palm oil plantations. A 2012 UNESCO report called attention to the impact these plantations are having, stating “[they] will change the nature and composition of areas bordering the nature reserve, [and] will directly increase pressure on the protected area.” The results will be both direct and destructive.

Pressures:

  • Migration and increased human presence
  • Increased use of  chemical fertilizers and pesticides

Results:

  • Hunting and poaching will become more common
  • Pollution levels will increase
  • Water quality will degrade
  • Invasive species will likely take root

The above factors will rapidly cause a reduction in the biodiversity of not only the concession areas, but also the Dja Faunal Reserve.

The Dja Faunal Reserve (in green) and Hevea Sud's forest concessions (outlined in yellow)

 

Of further concern is the murky legal basis on which rubber production in the area is premised. The 45,000 ha of land granted to Hévéa SA in 2008 were then classified as Permanent Forest Estates, meaning that the land could not be utilized for non-forestry uses. A government document from 2010 however, notes that in 2009 the government of Cameroon declassified these estates, opening them up to agricultural exploitation. By law, if the government declassifies an area of Permanent Forest Estate, it is required to offset this by classifying an area of equal size and similar ecological make up as the declassified zone. Drawing on publicly-available information, this has yet to be done.

Satellite imagery analysis by Greenpeace Africa: Deforested area inside Hevea Sud’s forest concessions 2000-2014

 

Moreover, it seems noteworthy that the lands granted to Hévéa SA lie in the home district of Cameroonian president Paul Biya, who also has familial links to Societe De Production De Palmeraies ET D'Hevea, the 20% partner in the rubber plantation project. The deal allowing agricultural exploitation on the borders of the Dja Faunal Reserve is severely and suspiciously lacking in transparency.

 

Greenpeace calls on Sinochem International to clarify its operations in Cameroon by making fully public information on and verifying the legality of Hévéa SA's land acquisition. It should also ensure that Hévéa SA's operations in Cameroon are legal and in compliance with all relevant regulations. Greenpeace also entreats Sinochem International to conduct a new environmental impact assessment for the plantations and to draw up effective and proactive measures to address the potential environmental impacts of the plantations.

An adult chimpanzee

 

Sinochem International's murky operations on the fringes of one of the world's best preserved equatorial rainforests directly threatens an endangered and fragile ecosystem. Moreover, requests from UNESCO designed to protect the Dja Faunal Reserve and its neighboring ecosystem have not been respected. The intricate ecosystem of the Dja Faunal Reserve is not something that can be rebuilt and restored. It is therefore imperative that the shady deals which endanger the life of this rainforest be clarified and that measures be taken to fulfill UNESCO's global preservation standards. It is time to expose and confront such dodgy and destructive operations.