Herakles Farms is in trouble again. After months of turmoil for the US-based corporation - including a temporary suspension order from the Cameroonian Government, confirmation that the company failed to obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of impacted communities, and the revelation that the forest they intend to flatten is home to rare primates – new evidence suggests that the company is logging illegally.
There are not one, but two aspects to this illegality. Firstly, a recent Greenpeace research trip found evidence that Herakles Farms had continued to log throughout the suspension period imposed by the Cameroonian Government earlier this year, when all work was ordered to stop. Herakles Farms announced the suspension in a press release on 18 May, and the suspension was lifted on 29 May. However, as evidenced in the photos below, logs stacked in the concession area are stamped with the date "22 May" – suggesting that they were cut down while the stop order was still in place. It is therefore highly ironic that the press release announcing the suspension also stated that the company 'always has and will comply fully and transparently with government regulations in force'.
Secondly, clearing and logging are now taking place on a larger scale in the concession area, and logs are being marked in a way that clearly indicates that they are intended for commercial sale. Herakles Farms is not, however, licensed to operate as a commercial logger or timber trader in Cameroon. The company’s CEO, Bruce Wrobel, stated as much himself in an open letter from September 2012:
"We surrendered the timber to the government and took a lower lease rate, as we are not commercial loggers… This will… add huge value to the government's timber income."
Despite this public declaration, internal company documents revealed in a joint report by Greenpeace International and the Oakland Institute in May 2013, estimated that sales of this timber could provide the company with revenue of between $60 million - $90 million over the next seven years.
Concerns had already been raised as a result of a field mission undertaken by the Cameroonian Ministry for Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) and the EU-funded Independent Observer in May 2012. The report found that Herakles Farms "was responsible for serious infringements to the national timber law, including clearing without an authorization inside the permanent forest estate (UFA 11–007)."
This conclusive evidence of illegal logging by Herakles Farms threatens to undermine the ongoing implementation process of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) between the Cameroonian Government and the EU. The VPA is intended to promote good governance and fight illegal logging in the Cameroonian forest sector.
Herakles Farms is therefore an important test case for the EU and the credibility of the VPA FLEGT process. Greenpeace is calling on the EU to act quickly, to urge the Cameroonian authorities to promote the sustainable management of forest resources and to ensure the rights of local communities. If Herakles Farms' project is allowed to continue, Cameroonian forests and the livelihoods of the people that depend on them will be at risk – as will the integrity of the VPA FLEGT process.
Irene Wabiwa is a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa.