Cameroon: As plantations expand, communities, wildlife feel pressure (InfoCongo)

| September 24, 2018

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It’s early in the morning and Rodrique Ngono is sharpening a machete in front of his homestead to prepare for the day’s hunt. Mr. Ngono is a 49-year-old farmer and hunter in Miatta village, on the southern periphery of the Dja Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Cameroon. But the planned expedition in search of mole rats won’t take place around his village the way it used to. Just two kilometres away, the verdant blend of forest trees is disappearing.

Shrieks from wildlife can still be heard in the far distance, reminding Mr. Ngono of the good old days. He says, “That should probably be the chimps in the Dja Wildlife reserve. For those of us living here, we use to get such sounds right behind the house.”

The lowland rainforest of Dja Wildlife Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, seems an ideal refuge for endangered species like chimpanzees, forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, and a nearly extinct leopard species. Villages near the reserve are home to around 9,500 people.

But along the western edge of the forest and wildlife reserve, there are signs of trouble.

Stakes with rubber seedlings are planted in the ground. The stakes are part of an ambitious plan by a rubber company in Cameroon in partnership with a Chinese company to set up a 45,000-hectare plantation next to the wildlife reserve.

The rubber plantation is owned by Sudcam, a subsidiary of the world’s largest natural rubber company Halcyon Agri Corporation, whose parent company is China-based Sinochem International.

Augustine Njamnshi works with the Bio-resource Centre, an NGO that protects the rights and interests of indigenous forest communities. He says the rubber plantation project is a disaster not only to the forest communities in the area but also to protected wildlife species.

As many as 80% of primates in Africa, such as the chimpanzees and lowland gorillas, live outside protected reserves, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their numbers have fallen drastically over the past two decades, largely due to the clearing of rainforests, the bushmeat trade, and diseases such as Ebola.

Since the forest clearing started, local people’s livelihood, already thin, has become dire. Villagers say they have forwarded a litany of complaints against Sudcam, complaining that the company has grabbed land and displaced families without compensation.

Rayan Ebidi is a farmer and resident of Miatta village. He says, “I lost my land to Sudcam and my source of income is long gone. I am no longer able to send my children to school and feed my family.”

An updated June 2018 report from World Resources Institute shows that nearly 1,000 hectares of tree cover was lost from November 2017 through January 2018. In total, more than 3,000 hectares have been cleared since 2014, according to the report.

Greenpeace calls the Sudcam plantation “the most devastating new clearing of forest for industrial agriculture in the Congo Basin.”

Samuel Nguiffo is the CEO of Centre for Environment and Development, an NGO in Cameroon that defends the rights of forest communities. According to Mr. Nguiffo, “The government has opened its arms to Chinese investors who are destroying natural habitat and making life even more difficult for poor forest communities.”

Officials from Sudcam, Halcyon Agri, and Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife declined to comment. “It is not my place to comment on such matters,” said Bruno Mfou’ou Mfou’ou, Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.

Rosine Masha is a widow with six children who lives in Miatta, and who lost around 50 hectares of her land to Sudcam. She says the future looks grim: “I was given only three small plots measuring two-and-a-half hectares as compensation. My children are now scattered everywhere looking for land to rent and cultivate.”

Environmental experts and forest activists are calling on the government to take stronger action. Samuel Nguiffo from the Centre for Environment and Development says, “The way forward is more stringent governance measures by the government.”

This story is adapted from an articled titled “As Chinese Plantations Expand, Communities, Wildlife Feel the Pressure,” which was published by InfoCongo. To read the full story, go to: http://infocongo.org/as-chinese-plantations-expand-communities-wildlife-feel-the-pressure/

Photo: Forest cleared. Credit: Info Congo