Access to land and its resources is crucial throughout rural Africa. Since the colonial era, local elites and foreign corporations have been taking control over large areas of agricultural lands. These land acquisitions have resulted in displacement, injustice and environmental destruction affecting local and indigenous communities.

In Cameroon, large foreign investments like SudCam have been portrayed as essential for national food security and economic development. The few jobs they create, don’t make up for the livelihoods they destroy. And this usually happens at the expense of indigenous communities’ ancestral land and livelihoods. 

For many Indigenous communities in Cameroon, land is not only important for food production and economic benefits, but for their cultural and social identity. In a report published by Greenpeace Africa on July 2018 and on November 2019,  it was revealed that Indigenous Baka living near the Sudcam plantation next to the Dja Reserve deplored the loss of their ancestral forest. Their traditional livelihoods, based mainly on cultivation, fishing, gathering and hunting, have been threatened by the multinational’s land grab. This includes loss of land, limited access to resources, damaged ecosystems and deforestation The plantation also threatens an ancient culture while exacerbating land-related conflicts. 

Many investments like Herakles farm and Sudcam agro industry come with grand promises of financial investments, jobs, and technological development. So far, those promises ended up serving only a minority of beneficiaries, leaving communities impoverished and in greater poverty. Nevertheless, governments in the Congo Basin, multinational corporations and international donors and development agencies all still advocate land grabbing as an essential remedy against poverty and a magic pill for economic growth. This presumes that forest lands are simply ‘unused’, comfortably ignoring the centuries and millennia in which those lands have been used by Indigenous communities. 

This dominant capitalist view of development, focusing largely on the short-term economic gains for big corporations and local elites, is overlooking the devastating long-term social and environmental impacts of these investments. Instead of strengthening accountability and the necessary legal frameworks to secure the rights of Indigenous communities, their Garden of Eden is being turned into an industrial exploitation hell.

The current land investment model, driven by the post-colonial state, is in fact a mechanism for retaining, consolidating and expanding state authority and control over more territory, people and resources. Given the weak bargaining power facing the state and their inferior position within the land tenure law system, Indigenous communities commonly suffer from large scale land acquisitions like in the cases of Herakles and SudCam. 

To address these problems, the full prior informed consent of people must be solicited before any project gets started –“consultation” is no substitute. Communities that are affected by industrial exploitation must be compensated fully, fairly and promptly. Above all, community forest management needs to be pursued: through restoring destroyed forests and securing ownership rights. Such a case to follow and support is that of the Kobo association of traditional leaders (AKOK-Back) in the south of Cameroon, demanding 60,000 hectares of forest for the communities. 

What happens in the rainforest doesn’t stay there. It affects all of us: Cameroonians and anyone who cares for human rights and for the planet. What can we do? We can raise awareness. We can get more politicians and donors behind the demand to reform land laws and policies. Finally, we can support better access for Indigenous people to the judicial system, where they can raise their just claim.

Pictures: 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1QqEn9ntK5T4m4Qm5B9sC5wpjMqKjUxV8

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qOc4bXZiPLrAFf36FgoW4fwepgCuRZPZ

Notes:

[1]  Elifuraha, Laltaika and Kelly M. Askew., 2018… Modes of Dispossession of Indigenous Lands and Territories in Africa.https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/01/Laltaika-and-Askew_UN-paper_rev3.pdf 
[2]  Convention d’établissement Entre La République Du Cameroun et Sud Cameroun Hévéa S.A., 2011. <http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/Global/africa/Forests/Publications/1-
[3]  Greenpeace Africa report, Ruinous rubber, July 2018. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-africa-stateless/2018/10/8f21a9bc-8f21a9bc-greenpeace-africa-sudcam-report-2018-1.pdf 
[4] Greenpeace Africa, APIFED, November 2019. We were told not to go into the forest anymore”, SudCam’s assault on human rights .. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-africa-stateless/2019/11/cd29dfdc-englishv7.pdf
[5]  SGSOC’S Social Investments: A Cemetery of Broken Promises. Greenpeace Africa 2016. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-africa-stateless/2018/10/8027b2ff-8027b2ff-sgsoc-social-investments-a-cemetery-of-broken-promises.pdf 
[6]  Klaus Deininger and Derek Byerlee with Jonathan Lindsay, Andrew Norton, Harris Selod, and Mercedes Stickler, 2011. Rising Global Interest in Farmland : can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? The world Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/998581468184149953/pdf/594630PUB0ID1810Box358282B01PUBLIC1.pdf 
[7]  CED, Relufa, IIED, 2019. Les propositions de la société civile pour la réforme foncière au Cameroun : Évaluation du cadre juridique à la lumière des textes existants . https://www.landcam.org/sites/landcam/files/resources/Les%20propositions%20de%20la%20société%20civile%20pour%20la%20réforme%20fonciere%20au%20Cameroun%20-%20LandCam.pdf
[8]  Mayers, J, Nguiffo, S and Assembe-Mvondo, S (2019) China in Cameroon’s forests: a review of issues and progress for livelihoods and sustainability. Research report. IIED, London. http://pubs.iied.org/13599IIED/ ISBN: 978-1-78431-656-3.
[9]  Steffi Hamann, 2017. Sustainability and Governance of Palm Oil Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Cameroon. A Thesis presented to The University of Guelph. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/51a5/1088312a2c65b2eafba7c71d2098e24a10d0.pdf 
[10]  Civil Society Proposals for Land Reform in Cameroon: Assessment of the existing legislation, June 2019. https://www.landcam.org/sites/landcam/files/resources/Civil%20Society%20Proposals%20for%20Land%20Reform%20in%20Cameroon.pdf