News / Africa

Growing Pressure for Land Reform in Cameroon

In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon) In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)
x
In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)
In southwest Cameroon, forests are razed for a palm oil plantation. (Courtesy Center for Environment and Development Cameroon)
Ntaryike Divine Jr.
— The village of Adjap is on the fringes of the tropical rainforests of Cameroon’s South Region.  It is home to some 2,000 inhabitants who say they are living life on the edge.

Over the years, the government has constantly annexed their land, only to sell it to foreign agribusinesses and logging companies.   Marcelling Biang, the local tribal chief, says their ancestors settled here in 1903, and they always considered the forest land theirs until the government began carving out large portions as private state property, arresting anyone cutting trees for firewood or for use in building houses

Alongside thousands of neighbors in 17 abutting villages, the Adjap natives have eventually been squeezed into a 14,000-hectare strip of land.  That’s  one-third of the close to 50,000-hectares they thought belonged to them under pre-colonial customary law. 

They’re now encircled by foreign-owned oil palm plantations and timber companies and complain the steady erosion of rights to forested land is having a disastrous impact on their livelihoods. 

Luther Abessolo, the traditional ruler of Akom I, a neighboring village, says he and his subjects now live in uncertainty because the government can decide to seize their land at short-notice anytime.  As a result, he adds, the people lack the motivation to cultivate the land.

Among the worst-affected here are aboriginal pygmies.  They’ve been dislodged from their homes in the bush and made to live in villages.

Martin Mbah, the head of a community of 32 Bagyieli pygmies, says they used to make a living hunting and gathering medicinal plants in the forests.  But now, he says, their very existence is in danger.

Despite their despair, these people may be luckier than many others in similar situations. 

Initially, the government appropriated all of their land so they could be used by foreign investors. But three years of advocacy resulted in the government giving back a portion of the land, along with limited rights.

Away in Cameroon’s southwest however, it’s a different tale. The livelihoods of some 14,000 villagers and numerous endangered plant and animal species are in jeopardy.    

US-owned agribusiness Herakles Farms has ignored the objections of scientists and activists to go ahead with a 600 million USD oil palm plantation. The venture calls for the razing of 73,000 hectares of dense natural forests. 

Protesting locals have frequently ended up behind bars as company officials repeat their view:   the land has been leased for 99 years from the government, and will bring jobs and infrastructure development.

But the global environment watchdog, Greenpeace, has reported on several aspects of the deal that are bringing renewed public attention. They include Herakle’s less than 50-cents-per acre annual tax to the Cameroon government, the absence of a presidential decree authenticating the concession, pending lawsuits, and flawed environmental impact assessments.

The Herakles land acquisition controversy is not Cameroon’s first.  Across the country, hostilities frequently erupt between nationals and Chinese agribusinesses growing rice, maize and cassava exclusively for their home markets. 

Research findings published in March by Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) indicate Cameroon has committed over 10 million hectares of forest land to various concessions. It says investors are expected to spend up to $ US 18 billion in the agribusiness, forestry, mining and infrastructure sectors in the country.

Since 2009, RRI has been leading a campaign for the government to enact land reforms recognizing and restoring local communities’ ownership rights over their forest habitat.  Four years ago, it convened government representatives, civil society and related institutions to begin lobbying for such reforms to be legislated by 2015.   

Reports presented at a follow-up regional dialogue in Yaoundé in early March indicate that only half of the 26 West and Central African governments have revisited their tenure systems. Even so, it adds, they only granted indigenous people weak secondary rights including limited access and usage privileges. 

RRI Coordinator Andy White says there's been some progress.

"Some governments in the region have initiated new land reforms," he says. " But the laws and policies they’re proposing are really inadequate. The crisis has become much greater over the last four years than we expected and there’s been far too little action.. . crisis in terms of loss of live, crisis in terms of the systematic destruction of the culture of the forest peoples like here in Cameroon. It’s just alarming."

New recommendations from the Yaoundé conclave prescribe fast-tracking prior government promises to grant local communities stronger rights, and to reinforce the lobbying power of NGO’s and civil society organizations.

HM Bruno Mvondo, a bureau member of the Cameroon Council of Traditional Rulers, says "We want to build a network of traditional rulers to constitute a lobby to defend our rights. For us traditional rulers, the land belongs to the community.  But in front of modern law, our customs don’t have any strength."

While debates regarding who owns Africa's lands gather momentum; fresh findings suggest wealthy nationals and elites are also increasingly joining the rush to purchase community lands.

Listen to report on land grabbing in Cameroon
Listen to report on land grabbing in Camerooni
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid