Camvert Sarl named as company behind a planned palm oil development that locals and activists fear will put communities and native forests at risk in Southern Cameroon
Where does a firm with only 5
million CFA (£6,470) in capital find 150 billion CFA (£19 million) to invest in a palm
oil development and do so when it has never before overseen an agri-commodity
This is one of the many questions
facing Camvert Sarl. The company is under mounting pressure from activists in
Cameroon to explain its dealings and ownership structure after it was named as
the proposed developer to clear 60,000 hectares (ha)of primary forest for a major
palm oil site.
Alarm bells were first raised in
May when a public notice signed by Cameroon’s Forest Ministry detailed plans to
change the heavily forested area for “agricultural production” and named
Camvert as the proposed developer.
An additional government document
signed by prime minister Joseph Dion Ngute in November and seen
by Earthsight reveals that the 60,000ha of classified forest had been
declassified under decree 2019/4562 to approve the planned oil palm
Located in the Ocean Department
of Southern Cameroon, the declassified area is composed of one northern bloc of
40,000ha and a southern bloc of 20,000ha, according to the document.
If the full area is converted for
oil palm production it would potentially become the second largest
agri-commodity site in the country after SOSUCAM’s 61,000ha sugar plantation
and it would become the largest palm oil plantation, according to the Cameroon Forest Atlas.
Little is known about the
proposed developers. During a meeting with civil society and local journalists
in September a representative of Camvert, Abdou Fata, said the company was
owned by a 42-year-old Cameroon national but refused to give further details
about the firm or its funders.
According to local media reports,
Fata said that 5,000ha of the proposed area would be reserved for smallholder
farms and he believed the development would benefit local communities.
However, the Nyete community, who
could lose up to 3,000ha of their land if the entire area is developed, are not
convinced. The Nyete chief Ebande Charles said that past agribusiness
developments had not aided his community.
“Everybody likes development, but
the development that Hevecam (a rubber plantation) and Socapalm promised the
people is not being felt in our villages,” he told local media. “What the
people feel is instead misery.”
Green Development Advocates
(GDA), one of many civil society groups concerned about the proposal, said that
in approving the development the government is ignoring community rights and
“GDA thinks that the
decommissioning of 60,000ha around Campo National Park is a bad signal
that Cameroon is launching the site for the national and international
communities,” GDA’s Aristide Chacgom told Earthsight.
“It contradicts the commitments
that the country has set itself in terms of respect and protection of the
environment and biodiversity, protection of the rights of rural communities and
in particular of the Indigenous Peoples whose way of life depends closely on
the forest to fight against climate change. It’s really a shame.”
Another concerned group is the
Environmental Governance Institute. EGI was one of 40 NGOs to sign a letter to
the government challenging the project and told local news outlet The Post that
the proposed area is “in a really ecologically sensitive zone with the Campo
Ma’an National Park which is a protected area under the Cameroon law.”
“There is also a gorilla
habitation programme which is right close to the park and the proposed
protected area,” the organisation’s executive director John Tarkang said.
Camvert did conduct an
Environmental and Social Impact Assessment prior to the declassification but
despite the local concerns about the threats to biodiversity of the
development, 50km of which border the Campo Ma’an National Park, the
development is proceeding.
Meanwhile, a public consultation
was announced by the government and Camvert in August but no further details of
the process have seemingly emerged nor any dates on the planned consultation
The fears of locals and activists
are well placed in a country where allegations of human rights and
environmental abuses by corporate land developers are alarmingly common.
A November release by
Greenpeace Africa laid bare 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.”
SOCFIN, a natural rubber, palm
oil and seed producer, has faced numerous cases of abuses including at its
Cameroon palm oil subsidiary Socapalm where
allegations of human rights abuses and poor working conditions have persisted
for several years.