Nelly Bassily | January 18, 2010
Come rain or sunshine, farmers are at work in the agricultural community of Nanga-Eboko, Cameroon. Two thousand hectares of land here are controlled by a Chinese company. Chinese workers are employed full-time to tend to the fields. They are responsible for planting, weeding, and harvesting crops. Sometimes, a small group of local people is paid to help out.
A citizen of Nanga-Eboko described a typical day working for the company. Dayworkers toil for eight to ten hours. There is no break. They work under the sun and in the rain. The daily pay for their efforts: 1,000 CFA (about 2.2 American dollars of 1.5 Euros). This amounts to less than the guaranteed minimum wage in Cameroon, which is just over 28,000 CFA per month (about 62 American dollars or 43 Euros).
The man is not alone in his discontentment with the Chinese company. Many locals are unhappy about the company’s presence. The national government leased land to a Chinese company called Sino Cam Iko without consulting local people. The contracted land includes 2,000 hectares in Nanga-Eboko, 4,000 hectares in Ndjoré, and 4,000 hectares in Santchou. The company may lease the land for up to 99 years.
Mr. Zhao is director of Sino Cam Iko. He says they want workers to work harder so the company can grow. Instead, local workers complain of mistreatment.
A taxi driver who worked on the company farm says they do not allow local workers to enjoy the fruits of their labour. He says that if they catch you with some rice in your pocket, they send you to jail.
Many local people fear that the entire project will benefit China, rather than locals. The ACDIC is a citizens’ organization that defends local interests. Bernard Njonga is president. He maintains that, when land is sold to local buyers, there is a better chance that local labour will be used, and produce will be sold in local markets. With foreign buyers, there is no such guarantee, Mr. Njonga insists.
To date, Sino Cam Iko has sold rice grown in Cameroon to local markets. But some are refusing to buy, even though it sells for a lower price. One restaurant owner said that this was her way of denouncing the presence of the Chinese company. Other locals insist that the Sino Cam Iko rice is of poor quality and does not cook well.
Local dissatisfaction does not seem to deter Sino Cam Iko. Mr. Zhao says the company will expand across Cameroon and beyond. He contends that the company provides local jobs and helps meet local food needs. According to Mr. Zhao, a memorandum of understanding with the government requires that the company’s produce be sold locally. To date, this promise has not satisfied or comforted local people.