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)
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

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs