Cameroon: Farmer regains land grabbed by state-backed forestry company

| May 6, 2013

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In 2009, the Cameroonian government leased over 49,000 hectares of land to Cameroon United Forests, or CUF, a forestry company. Marcel Mindjana is from the village of Adjap in southern Cameroon. He had farmed ​​two hectares of land before it was leased to the CUF. He earned enough from his farm to feed his family and pay for his children’s education. He says, “The earth is my life and without it I am nothing. This is why I decided to fight to get back what was mine.”

With the support of two NGOs – Cameroon Ecology and Initiative for Rights and Resources – Mr. Mindjana and other community members developed maps that indicated their farmland. Using these maps, they are campaigning to reclaim their land.

In August 2012, they were partially successful. The government signed a decree reducing the area leased to CUF. At the same time, it gave indigenous people the rights to nearly 14,000 hectares. It was a decision that pleased Mr. Mindjana. He says, “When I read the decree of the Prime Minister, I gave a sigh of relief. I felt myself lighten, as if a burden fell off my shoulders.”

With a confident step, Mr. Mindjana walks up and down his field planting maize and cassava. From time to time he stops, checks his progress, then starts again. He states, “I’m so glad to have another opportunity to farm. It feels like a dream after three years …”

Although Mr. Mindjana can begin farming again, he does not yet own his own land. He would like to get a land title.

Marcellin Biang is the chief of Adjap village, and is in the same situation as Mr. Mindjana. He says: “This land is not ours. Every night when I fall asleep, I think that the next day, the state can come [for my land]. We want to secure our lands to be sure they are really ours.”

The law governing forests, wildlife and fishing is currently under review. Passed in 1994, the law gives ownership of forest land to the state. Martin Cyrille Nkié is a senior manager in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife. He states, “The review process of the forest and land policy is underway … The development of the draft law is quite advanced.”

Mr. Mindjana finds it hard to hide his pleasure while he awaits the outcome of the legal review. He says, “I hope my harvest will be good. I have started to make plans and I am pleased to be able to dream again.”