Cameroon changes mind on Herakles palm oil project



Posted on 21 June 2013  | 
Aerial view of small oil palm plantation in the rainforest of Southeastern Cameroon. Forests in the green heart of Africa are vulnerable targets for expansion, as palm oil companies look beyond Indonesia and Malaysia for new land to expand palm oil production
© WWF-Canon / Carlos DrewsEnlarge
Shortly after asking Herakles Farms to suspend their clear-cutting operations across 73,000 hectares of rainforest to develop an oil palm plantation, Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife subsequently issued a letter in late May informing the company that it is free to resume tree felling.

According to Samuel Nguiffo, head of the Cameroonian NGO Centre for Environment and Development, “the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife of Cameroon itself, in a February 2013 report, accused Herakles Farms of intimidation and bribery in its dealings with chiefs and local decision-makers.” The Ministry suspension came shortly after a joint report from Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute alleged the company also failed to obtain the proper permits prior to clearing rainforest for palm nurseries and that it was selling timber that was meant for the Cameroonian government.

“This is incomprehensible,” said Ludovic Miaro Iii, WWF Regional Palm Oil Coordinator in Central Africa. “On the one hand, we have a company which is operating without requisite permits on public lands, in clear violation of national and international social and environmental norms. What Herakles Farms is doing is a de facto land grab. On the other hand, we have the government of Cameroon which seems to be encouraging this company to circumvent national legislations and the rights of local people.”

The project has proved controversial due to opposition from villagers who say they will lose access to hunting groups and community forest plots. Conservationists have argued that the plantation also puts endangered wildlife at risk. Nearly 90% of the plantation area is reportedly covered by dense forest.

Herakles contends that the project will bring money and serve as a buffer around protected forest areas however the company's commitment to sustainability has been questioned since it left the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Herakles has also made dubious claims about the environmental benefits of palm oil plantations, including asserting that converting rainforests for oil palm plantations would help mitigate climate change.

Mongabay, Greenpeace, Ecofin, Palm Watch Africa

Aerial view of small oil palm plantation in the rainforest of Southeastern Cameroon. Forests in the green heart of Africa are vulnerable targets for expansion, as palm oil companies look beyond Indonesia and Malaysia for new land to expand palm oil production
© WWF-Canon / Carlos Drews Enlarge

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