Cameroon women denounce "destruction" of forests and community by agribusiness giants


A concession run by Sudcam, the rubber giant accused of destroying forests and forcibly displaying residents. Photo: Greenpeace

The campaign against Cameroon’s agribusiness titans was reenergised in March after women living near several controversial plantations denounced the loss of community lands and rights, and the destruction of native forests.

LandCam, an EU-funded project run by several NGOs working to improve land rights in Cameroon, released a statement on behalf of women “living in the vicinity of agro-industries” decrying their treatment by major palm oil, rubber and sugar companies.

The release was general in tone, but named Hevecam, Sudcam, Socapalm, PHP, Biopalm, Semry, Rubbercam and Sosucam as the intended recipients. 

Native forests in Cameroon have been under attack for years from large-scale crop developments. Data from Global Forest Watch shows the country lost 308,000 hectares (ha) of tree cover in 2017 and 2018, a 57 per cent increase on the two previous years. 

The statement, coinciding with International Women’s Day on 8 March, decried the loss of essential community farming lands, the pollution of waterways and the theft of crops by companies. Other impacts on women specified in the statement include:

  • “Women can no longer play their role as transmitters of culture and traditional knowledge because of the destruction of the forests;
  • “The restriction and/or prohibition of access to village tracks that now cross the plantations that women take to carry out their farming, fishing, gathering and/or hunting activities;
  • “The clearing of forests and the destruction of non-timber forest products formerly collected, consumed, processed and sold by women;
  • “The destruction of medicinal plants used by women to treat certain illnesses in their families.”

Women taking a stand against corporate agribusiness is not uncommon in the West African country. 

In 2018, the Brussels-based NGO Fern published a report laying bare multiple environmental and human rights abuse allegations against Socapalm – a subsidiary of Swiss agri monolith Socfin – at its Cameroon palm oil plantations. 

The report emphasised how local women were willing to speak out and take on the firm for encroaching on their land and way of life. 

Marie Noëlle Etonde, the president of Synaparcam, a national collective of palm farmers that defends rural communities in Cameroon, works with locals in their dispute with Socapalm. 

Etonde, who featured in Fern’s 2018 report, was part of LandCam’s International Women’s Day initiative and explained to them the ongoing battle with Socapalm. “As rural women, what is most important to us is the land,” she said. “The more we cultivate what we eat, the more we have hopes of feeding other families. So, first of all, we want our land to be given back to us.” 

She said that “we tried to dialogue, but it didn’t work”, and has called on Socapalm and the Ministry of Agriculture to restart talks with locals at the forefront of discussions. “So far there has been no follow-up,” Etonde told LandCam in March. “We believe that a framework for dialogue must involve the company, the Government and us, the local communities.” 

The fight against Socapalm is one of many similar battles being waged by groups across the country. 

A November release by Greenpeace Africa revealed fresh details of abuses by rubber giant Sudcam. The report said that Sudcam’s promises of development had proved hollow and that they instead had overseen “forced displacements and the destruction of dwellings, sacred areas and graveyards.” 

Meanwhile in December, Earthsight revealed the prospect of a new arrival in Cameroon’s ever-burgeoning agribusiness sector. 

Camvert Srl, a little known firm in the southern Ocean department, is set to begin work on a new 60,000ha palm oil site that could be the biggest of its kind in the country and is leaving yet more locals fearful for their futures.

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