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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid