Palm oil's new frontier
In recent years investors from around the world have been focusing heavily on Africa in an effort to exploit the continent's rich natural resources, including agriculture, minerals and oil, at the expense of local communities and the environment.
This trend of buying or leasing large areas of land in Africa to extract resources for export has been termed "land-grabbing", due to the speed and scale at which it is taking place and due to the opaque nature of some of the land deals that have been negotiated.
The UN has warned that these deals could severely undermine food security, hamper long-term economic development and lead to the loss of important ecosystems.
The Congo Basin is the target of several international palm oil developers, who are looking to expand their operations in Africa. Concession contracts are currently being negotiated for a million hectares of land in Cameroon alone. Most of this land is located within the rainforest region, meaning that palm oil plantations would be a major cause of wide-scale deforestation if allowed to go ahead.
A recent research paper by Greenpeace details the large number of concessions being granted and the dangers to the climate and communities if this large-scale palm oil expansion continues unchecked.
The wrong project in the wrong place?
The deceitful efforts by American-owned Herakles Farms in the southwest of Cameroon to develop a huge oil palm plantation in an area eight times the size of Manhattan are a stark example of the threats that large-scale industrial plantation projects present to people’s rights and livelihoods, biodiversity and the global climate.
Linked to New York private equity giant Blackstone Group, Herakles took over the project from Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC) who signed a convention with the country’s government in 2009 to develop about 70,000 hectares.
The very legality of that convention has been questioned and despite claims by the company that the majority of the concession is secondary and degraded forest, research shows it will affect forests that have been identified as vital for endangered wildlife and serve as corridors to five crucial protected areas.
Also, despite further claims from Herakles Farms that the project will boost the economy and create jobs, the company's plans have been met with widespread opposition and attracted fierce criticism from local NGOs and residents alike.
The Herakles Farms oil palm plantation is the wrong project, in the wrong place. Greenpeace is among the many voices calling for this development to be stopped before it is too late for the people and the ecosystems of Cameroon.
World Bank Ties
There are direct ties between the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's private arm, and Olam International, a company involved in illegal logging operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Controlled by rich industrialized countries, the World Bank is one of the largest sources of funding for developing countries. It is the most important international donor in the DRC.
The World Bank suspended financial assistance to the DRC during the conflicts of the 1990s and resumed lending in 2001. By August 2006, the World Bank Group had approved loans, credits and grants to the DRC worth more than $4 billion.
In June 2002, the World Bank approved a $450 million Economic Recovery Credit for the DRC. The release of $15 million of this was made conditional on the adoption of the DRC forestry code. They also created a moratorium on the granting of new logging titles.
However, the moratorium was quickly overlooked as the DRC's rich rainforest and mineral resources are eyed as a quick source of tax revenue and foreign earnings to kick-start the country's collapsed economy.
Ancient Rainforests Vanishing
Even though there has been a moratorium on new logging permits, over 37 million acres of rainforest have been granted to the logging industry — that's an area the size of Illinois, and most of this is in areas that are vital for protecting biodiversity.
The DRC Rainforest is a critical habitat for the endangered bonobo (man's closest relative) and other threatened species such as forest elephants and hippopotamus. DRC forests have also been identified as critical for the livelihoods of an estimated 40 million rural people.
Because of corruption and flawed law enforcement, taxes paid by the logging companies is not going back to the communities to provide essential services like education and healthcare. Even the World Bank admits that over the last three years, not a single penny paid by the logging companies has reached local communities. This leaves the local communities not only without the forest that provided their food, shelter and medicine, but without the benefits they have been promised.
A Call for Change
Today, the intact rainforest of the DRC needs to be valued and conserved in the interests of both the Congolese people and the global environment. These interests are incompatible with industrial logging: logging brings roads that open up — and thereby degrade - intact forest — a destruction that anyone with access to Google Earth can bear witness.
Greenpeace is demanding that all forest titles allocated in breach of the 2002 moratorium be cancelled through the ongoing legality review of all logging titles.
Greenpeace is also calling on the World Bank to stop funding illegal logging in the DRC and set up programs and projects that will actually help local communities-not harm them.
Palm Oil's new frontier
Congo — Sold Down the River
Logging decimates African rainforest
Robbing the Rainforests
Letter to World Bank President
Lessons Learned from Cameroon