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Cameroon: corporations and biodiversity

Cameroon is in Central Africa’s Congo Basin, one of the world’s largest reservoirs of biodiversity. Yet unsustainable logging, industrial plantations, mining and large construction projects carried out by foreign transnational corporations are threatening Cameroon’s indigenous communities and wildlife.

cameroon-loggingLogging, both legal and illegal, is a major threat. Legal logging does not imply sustainability: most concessions granted by the government, for example, do not even have an approved management plan. The majority of logging companies operating in the Congo Basin are European, and most of the timber extracted is exported to Europe, either directly or via China.


Since December 2005, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been awarding certificates to controversial logging concessions run by European companies. However, these companies have a long record of 'infractions' and illegal activities in the region. This has endangered the credibility of the FSC label, which is meant to guarantee socially responsible and sustainable management of forests. 


Industrial plantations are also expanding rapidly, replacing forests, destroying biodiversity, and depriving forest-dependent communities of their homes and livelihoods.


Mining is also becoming a serious concern, with an increasing number of mining concessions granted in the forest, even in protected areas. Chinese and Indian corporations are active in the area and often have very low operating standards.


monitoring fsc-certified companies 

Over the course of the last four years, FoE Cameroon/CED, FoE France, and FoE Netherlands/Milieudefensie have worked together to expose shortfalls in the implementation of FSC standards, and to raise the more general issue of the social aspects of certification.


In 2009, FoE Cameroon continued monitoring the activities of a number of FSC-certified forestry companies, including SEFAC, Pallisco and Wijma, to ascertain whether or not they are successfully protecting biodiversity in Central Africa. The data collected so far revealed cases of non-compliance with FSC principles (SEFAC); issues affecting indigenous communities (Pallisco); and persistent non-compliance (Wijma). The companies are failing to making provisions that ensure indigenous communities have access to the land and resources they need and are entitled to. 


Eventually the FSC responded, suspending both FSC certificates (those of Wijma and SEFAC) and FSC certifiers (Bureau Veritas, ICILA). The FSC’s certification system has also been improved. For instance, Transformation REEF Cameroon (TRF) abandoned more than 20,000 ha of forest claimed by local communities, and has established a process for dealing with conflicts with local communities. Rougier has also requested advice for improving communication with communities, to develop conflict-prevention techniques. 


Improving the social aspects of certification, including the recognition and protection of indigenous communities, has become the most important priority for the FSC and companies involved in certification in Central Africa.


FoE Cameroon also participated in meetings with the Interafrican Forest Industries Association (IFIA), bringing the issue of the social impacts of logging to the table. There is now a dialogue underway on this issue.


tracking industrial plantations 

FoE Cameroon is also monitoring the impact of industrial plantations in Cameroon, gathering evidence that clearly demonstrates the severe negative impacts that companies such as SOCAPALM (palm oil) and Hevecam (rubber) are having on the environment, and on indigenous communities living in the area. This includes:


  • Research into SOCAPALM’s activities published in December 2008 by the World Development Movement (“Resistances contre deux géants industriels en forêt tropicale,” Julien- François Gerber,

  • A preliminary review of all the indigenous communities living in and around the SOCAPALM and Hevecam plantations, gathering photographic evidence, locating villages, and talking to communities about their experiences. 

  • Detailed work with an indigenous community documenting the real social and environmental impacts of living next to a SOCAPALM plantation. A French professional photographer visited the community. A map of the area was also drafted, showing how the community is completely surrounded by palm plantations. 

  • An in-depth mapping exercise with communities, using global positioning system (GPS) sets, to document the communities’ uses of the forest. 


An analysis of the impact of the SOCAPALM and La Fruitière de Marseille banana plantations on water resources has also been initiated, as part of the process of revising Cameroon’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) rules.


This growing body of evidence underpins FoE Cameroon's position that industrial plantations are not the best way to promote sustainability and development. It is also leading to real change. The evidence relating to SOCAPALM and Hevecam, for example, led to the disclosure of the companies’ extension plans, which target the last portions of the forests were indigenous communities are located. Those plans are now on hold as a result.


In the meantime, knowledge about the companies’ impacts is spreading, with media coverage in France, including a piece on a well-known radio program in Paris (the journalist and the radio are now facing a court case for defamation in Paris, and FoE Cameroon is a witness in the case.) 


FoE Cameroon also worked with the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, at Chapman University in the US. Together they produced a film about the situation of indigenous communities within the SOCAPALM plantations. “Shadows in the Forest” was launched in November 2009 in the USA and can be viewed here:


illegal logging 

A joint field visit to a concession being logged illegally was also undertaken by FoE Cameroon, FoE France and FoE Netherlands, together with representatives of European logging companies active in Africa, and timber buyers in Europe. The visit exposed illegal operations and their social and environmental impacts. The European buyers decided not to buy any more timber from companies that are unable to prove the legality of their operations. 


FoE Cameroon is also contributing to the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), by engaging in the revision of Cameroon’s forestry law. Based on the information it has gathered about industrial plantations FoE Cameroon has been able to make cogent arguments in favor of addressing land issues in the new legislation.


what next 

The three strands of work will all continue. The material gathered in relation to industrial plantations will be published in a report in 2010. Reports on the activities of companies including Pallisco and Wijma are also due to be published.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)

Photo courtesy of World Resources 

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