Palm oil development facilitates illegal logging

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Industrial agriculture is the main cause of deforestation around the world. That’s no surprise. And according to a recent study commissioned by the British organization Forest Trends, at least half of the tropical hardwoods sold today are the the by-product of deforestation for agriculture. The same study also indicates that more than half of the forests converted to agricultural use were done so illegally. The wood coming from those operations should also be considered illegal, but for now, this is not usually the case.

Developers use the proceeds from timber sales to finance agricultural operations. In some cases, developers may be more interested in timber than agriculture and an agricultural project may be a logging operation in disguise. Consider the case of the controversial Herakles Farms project in Cameroon. The land Herakles acquired was not available for logging, but now that the company is developing an oil palm plantation (on paper, at least), it is clear-cutting forest and looking to profit from timber sales. At this point, it is unclear that the company will proceed with planting and it is possible that it may simply sell timber before selling the project.

Herakles Farms is not alone in this questionable practice.

Filip Verbelen of Greenpeace, Belgium, has written an interesting article on the relationship between palm oil and illegal logging, which we’re posting.

La déforestation pour l’huile de palme alimente aussi le commerce de bois illégal

De récentes études sur les causes de la déforestation pointent l’expansion rapide de l’agriculture commerciale. Un petit groupe de produits d’exportation accapare le haut du tableau : en Amérique latine, il s’agit principalement de la production à grande échelle de viande et de soja ; en Asie du Sud-Est, c’est surtout la production de pâte à papier, de papier et d’huile de palme qui favorise la déforestation.

À l’origine de cette destruction des forêts, on retrouve la demande en augmentation rapide pour ces produits sur les marchés internationaux. Le Brésil exporte la majeure partie de sa production de soja. La Malaisie et l’Indonésie représentent ensemble plus de 80% de la production mondiale d’huile de palme et en exportent plus de 80%. Une étude récente révèle que l’Europe, à l’échelle du monde, est de loin le plus grand consommateur de denrées dont la production stimule la déforestation. L’« empreinte » de l’Europe en termes de déforestation a été, au cours de la dernière décennie, deux fois plus large que celles de la Chine et du Japon réunis !

Bois illégal

Depuis quelques années, on constate également que cette déforestation accélérée au profit de l’agriculture commerciale influence en profondeur le marché international des bois durs tropicaux. L’exploitation forestière précède en effet souvent une réaffectation des terres, dans le cadre de laquelle les revenus issus de la vente du bois servent de capital destiné au développement de projets agricoles. Une étude britannique commandée par l’organisation Forest Trends estime qu’au moins la moitié de tous les bois tropicaux négociés dans le monde provient de forêts détruites pour l’aménagement de cultures. Les premiers résultats de cette étude indiquent aussi que plus de 50% de ces reconversions de forêts en cultures pour l’industrie agricole se font dans l’illégalité. Le bois qui en est tiré doit dès lors, lui aussi, être considéré comme illégal.

Au Brésil, par exemple, l’analyse de récentes photos satellites montre qu’une grande partie de la déforestation à des fins d’élevage et de culture du soja est en infraction avec les autorisations octroyées aux entreprises concernées. En Indonésie, l’essentiel de la déforestation actuelle doit être imputé à l’essor rapide de l’industrie de l’huile de palme. De nombreuses études dénoncent les méthodes utilisées en Indonésie par les entreprises productrices d’huile de palme pour contourner la législation : les forêts sont rasées pour leur substituer des plantations non autorisées ; l’exploitation de certaines forêts implantées sur des tourbières, bien qu’interdite, est malgré tout souvent observée ; des forêts sont volontairement incendiées par des producteurs d’huile de palme qui convoitent ces terres, etc. Les multiples conflits d’intérêts entre la sphère politique et l’industrie agricole encouragent en outre la corruption et étouffent, parfois totalement, la répression des pratiques illégales.

L’Afrique n’est pas épargnée

Si l’Indonésie restreint de plus en plus le développement de l’industrie de l’huile de palme – tandis que la demande mondiale continue de croître –, des projets de nouvelles cultures d’huile de palme se multiplient rapidement en Afrique centrale et de l’Ouest. Et à l’instar de l’Asie, une part considérable de la déforestation en Afrique afin de permettre ces cultures se déroule dans l’illégalité. Quelques exemples :

  • Au Cameroun, l’entreprise américaine Herakles Farms poursuit l’installation d’une plantation controversée de 70 000 hectares dédiée à l’huile de palme dans une zone à haute valeur écologique. Bien qu’elle ne possède pas les autorisations exigées, cette société a quand même commencé à abattre de grands pans de la forêt tropicale. Des documents internes à l’entreprise lèvent par ailleurs tout doute sur ses espoirs de gagner des millions de dollars grâce à la vente de ces bois durs, même si elle a toujours prétendue ne pas s’intéresser aux bois durs tropicaux et vouloir laisser ce bois aux autorités camerounaises.
  • Au Libéria, le gouvernement a octroyé ces dernières années des centaines de milliers d’hectares de forêt en concessions à, notamment, des entreprises d’exploitation forestière et à des sociétés désireuses d’implanter des cultures d’huile de palme. Un audit indépendant sur l’attribution de ces contrats a conclu que l’octroi d’un grand nombre de ces concessions n’avait pas respecté les prescriptions légales. Se pose dès lors la question de la légalité du bois provenant de ces concessions.
  • Au Congo-Brazzaville, un groupe malaisien a acquis les droits relatifs aux plantations Atama. Atama possède dans ce pays une concession de 470 000 hectares au beau milieu de la forêt tropicale, dont 180 000 hectares vont servir à la culture de l’huile de palme. Il s’agit vraisemblablement du plus grand projet lié à l’huile de palme dans le bassin du Congo. La coupe à blanc à grande échelle de la forêt tropicale a débuté en 2012 sans attendre les études d’incidences sur l’environnement exigées par la loi. Les inspecteurs gouvernementaux ont déjà relevé de nombreuses infractions à la législation forestière. Si ce projet est mené à son terme, il multipliera par deux le taux de déforestation au Congo-Brazzaville. Il produira en outre, pendant plusieurs années, plus de bois que ne le font les concessions forestières déjà existantes dans le pays.

Des initiatives politiques actuelles insuffisantes

Les plans d’action actuels contre l’exploitation forestière illégale accordent encore trop peu d’importance à la lutte contre la déforestation illégale pour l’industrie agricole. Au sein de l’Union européenne, une nouvelle législation est entrée en vigueur en mars de cette année afin de rendre punissable l’importation de bois illégal. Son efficacité reste toutefois à prouver. Malgré l’existence de cette nouvelle réglementation, Greenpeace a déjà constaté à plusieurs reprises que du bois congolais abattu illégalement pouvait toujours être importé sans risque de sanctions sur le territoire européen. Les États membres de l’UE ne sont manifestement pas encore capables d’appliquer ces nouvelles règles. Le volume croissant de bois illégal issu de la déforestation illégale à des fins agricoles commerciales ne bénéficie par ailleurs de l’attention des décideurs politiques que depuis quelques années. Il ne s’agissait pas encore d’un dossier majeur à l’époque de l’élaboration du règlement européen sur le bois.

Les accords de partenariat volontaires que l’UE conclut depuis quelques années avec une série de pays grands producteurs de bois (tels que le Cameroun, le Congo-Brazzaville, le Libéria et l’Indonésie) en vue d’améliorer la gestion forestière et d’enrayer les coupes illégales tiennent eux aussi insuffisamment compte de la problématique de la conversion des forêts pour l’agriculture industrielle.L’Indonésie, par exemple, a signé ce mois-ci le dernier accord de partenariat volontaire en date avec l’Union européenne. Greenpeace a salué cet accord car l’Indonésie démontre par cette démarche qu’elle est disposée à combattre la corruption et les pratiques illégales. Mais Greenpeace a dans le même temps averti que l’Indonésie, si elle souhaite renforcer la crédibilité de sa politique forestière, doit décréter une interdiction de la réaffectation de zones de forêt tropicale pour y implanter des cultures commerciales.

Légal ou pas ?

Entre-temps, il semble aussi de plus en plus évident qu’il ne suffit pas de lutter contre les formes illégales de déforestation. Une approche trop polarisée sur la « légalité » peut même déboucher sur des résultats contraires : beaucoup d’entreprises parviennent ainsi à faire légaliser leurs pratiques illégales en demandant et en obtenant après coup les autorisations exigées. Dans certains pays tels que le Cameroun et le Brésil, on envisage même d’assouplir la réglementation sur le bois au lieu de la durcir. Des projets de déforestation encore interdits aujourd’hui pourraient ainsi à l’avenir être considérés comme parfaitement légaux.

Indépendamment des discussions sur la légalité, de nouvelles initiatives politiques sont dès lors activement recherchées pour s’assurer que des produits tels que la viande, le soja, le papier et l’huile de palme échangés sur les marchés internationaux ne proviennent plus de la déforestation au profit de l’agriculture industrielle. L’Union européenne est consciente de l’enjeu et étudie un plan d’action afin de traiter ce problème. Un tel plan devra aborder la consommation de ces produits au sein de l’UE sans oublier la collaboration avec les pays producteurs pour y consolider la politique forestière au niveau local. La nécessité d’un tel plan d’action – un plan pour « une réduction ciblée de la déforestation par l’agriculture commerciale » – a déjà été reconnue dans le septième programme d’action européen pour l’environnement et doit se concrétiser au cours des prochaines années.

Greenpeace maintient la pression sur les autorités et les entreprises afin d’adopter des mesures débouchant sur l’acceptation par les secteurs de l’agriculture industrielle d’une politique garantissant que leurs activités ne soient plus une source de déforestation.

Article originally published by Greenpeace Belgium, October 20, 2013

Warning: Look to Liberia

Where forests and farms once stood, oil palms now stretch as far as the eye can see...

Where forests and farms once stood, oil palms now stretch as far as the eye can see…

Citizens of Congo Basin countries need look no further than Liberia to see what uncontrolled palm oil development looks like. It’s a frightening sight.

Africa’s Vanishing Forests, published on December 4th, describes Liberia’s burgeoning palm oil industry in painful detail. This is not what “development” is supposed to look like.

Writing about the arrival of Singaporean investor, Golden Veroleum (GVL), in Liberia, author Jocelyn Zuckerman describes an all-too-familiar scenario:

– Deals signed without the consent of local communities;

– Community lands seized by the government and handed over to multinational corporations;

– Deforestation leading to extensive environmental damage and social upheaval with villagers deprived of their lands and livelihoods;

– Insufficient compensation, limited employment opportunities and increasing food prices and hunger;

– Corruption running throughout every deal;

– Local attorneys and officials overwhelmed by powerful multinational legal teams;

– Project opponents and journalists harassed and imprisoned.

The list goes on and on.

Zuckerman relates the story of a village called Pluoh, where villager, Benedict Menewah, tells his story:

He described how GVL had shown up with its Caterpillars in the village he’d grown up in and where his father, Smart Williams, still lived. Hearing the sound of machinery, Williams, a 77-year-old with stooped shoulders and clouded blue eyes, had gone to see what was up. Representatives from GVL, a Liberian company whose anchor investor is based in Singapore, asked to see his father’s deed, Menewah said. “We don’t have a deed,” Williams told them, “but this is our land. Where would we get a deed from?” (In fact, very few rural Liberians have physical documentation related to the land their families have inhabited for generations.) “They said the land was for the government,” Williams told me later, “not for us.” The company proceeded to plow under the family’s cassava, yams, and plantains, in addition to the 500 baby rubber trees that Menewah had recently planted with intentions of selling the latex. They disassembled Williams’s home and put the mud bricks on a tractor so he could rebuild elsewhere.

“The bush is our supermarket,” Menewah said, explaining how he used to hunt for small animals as well as gather fruit. “We get everything here. But now they’ve taken it all.” The company gave him a single payment of $340.

Williams was particularly broken up about the two breadfruit trees that his great-uncle had brought back from Ghana in 1922 and which, along with bush meat and “palm cabbage” (finely chopped, tender young palm leaves), had kept the family alive during the long years of fighting. “We lost our auntie, our uncle, our nephew, our niece,” Menewah said, spreading his arms to show me the horizontal scars from where the combatants had tied him up.

The coconut tree had apparently been left, along with the nearby papaya, as a courtesy when the company bulldozed everything else around the graves of Williams’s father and uncle. GVL encircled these with a rickety wooden fence. Whenever he or his father tries to tidy up the way they used to, Menewah said, “the company says we are damaging their property.”

Although Zuckerman underlines the responsibility of the host country governments for making things right (or wrong), she also brings up the important issue of the imbalance of power in these deals:

“Even the government of Liberia does not have the capacity to negotiate with these conglomerates,” (Liberian) attorney Brownell told me. “The government budget this year was $500 million [$553 million, to be exact]. Sime Darby’s is more than $3 billion; Golden Veroleum’s, $1.6 billion. These companies have the top-notch lawyers in the world, the top-notch advisers. The government of Liberia is like an ant when it’s negotiating with these people.”

To make matters worse, Brownell said in reference to the Sime Darby concession, there is little oversight to ensure that citizens’ needs are being met. “You don’t have any person from the government looking over it,” he said. “It’s a state within a state.”

Sime Darby’s head of communications, Carl Dagenhart, speaking by phone from Malaysia, admitted that the company is largely left to its own devices. “Whenever an investor is doing business in a country which has been traumatized to such a degree as Liberia, of course, in many respects we will be a little bit on our own,” he said.

The trend across the region is not encouraging and Liberia stands as an example of what can happen when palm oil is done wrong.  Read the whole article here: Africa’s Vanishing Forests

Further reading:

Sime Darby and Land Grabs in Liberia

The Bitter Taste of Liberia’s Palm Oil Plantations

More information at Farmlandgrab.org

Concession des terres à Herakles farms… Des Ong contre les décrets de Paul Biya

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Affaire Herakles Farms. Des Ong camerounaises dénoncent le recul de Paul Biya

Alain NOAH AWANA, Le Messager

Deux organisations non gouvernementales camerounaises estiment que le président de la République a légalisé les activités illicites de l’entreprise américaine dans la région du Sud-ouest depuis 3 ans.

La société civile camerounaise ne lâche pas le morceau. Immédiatement après les décrets présidentiels du 25 novembre 2013, qui octroient près de 20 000 hectares des terres à la Sithe global sustainable oils company (Sgsoc), filiale de l’américaine Herakles Farms, deux organisations non gouvernementales (Ong) locales ont publié un communiqué conjoint pour donner leur position. Il s’agit du Centre pour l’environnement et le développement (Ced) et du Réseau de lutte contre la faim au Cameroun (Relufa). Le communiqué estime en gros que Paul Biya vient de légaliser des activités illégales perpétrées par la Sgsoc/Herakles Farms depuis 3 ans dans la région du Sud-ouest.

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The headlines

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Cameroon’s president Biya signs lease on controversial palm oil development

Entrance to Lipenja nursery. Lipenja, SW Region, Cameroon.

Entrance to Lipenja nursery. Lipenja, SW Region, Cameroon.

Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, has signed an official decree allowing Herakles Farms to proceed with the development of a controversial palm oil plantation in the country’s Southwest Region. In response to widespread opposition, the project has been downsized from 73,000 hectares to 20,000 hectares. It’s unlikely, however, that the reduced plantation size will satisfy critics who opposed not only the immense footprint of the proposed plantation, but also the methods of the company.

Here’s more from  Africa Science News:

Herakles land lease signature is an alarming development

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Cameroon activist takes on land grabber from Wall Street, now faces imprisonment

Nasako Besingi. Photo: Kumba News

Nasako Besingi. Photo: Kumba News

The following interview was published by GRAIN, a small international organization that works to support struggles for community-controlled food systems. This is the first of a series of interviews about resistance to the expansion of industrial oil palm plantations in West and Central Africa.

Nasako Besingi is a land grabber’s nightmare. The community organiser and director of Struggle to Economise Future Environment (SEFE) has made a mess of a US company’s plans to grab a huge chunk of land in Cameroon’s southwest to produce palm oil.

Herakles Capital is a venture capital firm based in New York City that is pursuing the acquisition and development of oil palm plantations on over 80,000 ha in West and Central Africa. Nasako has worked tirelessly to investigate and expose the company’s project in Cameroon since the moment he learned of it, and helped local people to understand what its plans are all about. Resistance to Herakles is now widespread, but it’s come at a high price for Nasako.

“I first heard about the plans for a plantation in our area from a government agent back in 2009,” he says. “I was shocked. I told him, ‘But there are no available lands in our area.'”

Later that year, at a local meeting of the ruling political party, chiefs from the area were asked to sign a blank piece of paper in exchange for 10,000 FCFA. “None of them knew what they were signing,” says Nasako. “We only found out later that the paper was used as proof of local consent for the proposed oil palm project.”

By 2010, the government and the company had gone public about the deal. But it was not clear who was behind the project. “They would refer to the company as Sithe Global, which is a US company, when they were talking about it locally and then SCSOC, a company registered in Cameroon, when it came to official communications. To me it seemed like they were hiding the real identity of the company,” says Nasako. Only later would it become clear that the company was owned by US hedge fund manager Herakles Capital, which also owns Sithe Global.

An inside source gave Nasako a copy of the Establishment Convention between the company and the government.

“The convention does not specify the amount of lands or the location of the lands involved in the project,” says Nasako. “But when the company came to the area, they said that the lands had been allocated by the government.”

SEFE organised a meeting in August 2011 to get clarity on the proposed project. They invited all of the affected villages, the government and the company. But the company refused to participate.

“It was then that we realised that this company did not want to negotiate, that they were shunning us,” says Nasako. “So we decided to take them to court.”

SEFE brought charges against the company for violating national and international environmental and human rights laws to the High Court. The court ruled in its favour, concluding that Herakles did not have permission to operate in the area, but this did not stop the company.

“The company ignored this decision from the court because they had the blessing of the Prime Minister,” says Nasako. “We looked at this and said, ‘If this company is going to ignore the court, how can we, as villagers, expect them to listen to us?'”

SEFE stepped up its awareness raising work. It organised another major meeting in July 2012 in the village of Meangwe 2. In the days leading up to the meeting, company agents went into the villages warning residents not to attend.

“They told the villagers that it was an illegal meeting, that SEFE was an illegal organisation, and that people would be arrested if they attended the meeting,” says Nasako. “But this didn’t stop people from coming. It was the rainy season and still over 300 people turned up for the meeting from all the affected villages. For many, it was the first time they had learned about the proposed project and the company.”

Nasako’s efforts nearly cost him his life. A month after the meeting, he was travelling by motorbike to a village that had asked him to talk to them about Herakles’ plans when he was ambushed by a group of men.

“They pulled me off the bike and started punching me,” recounts Nasako. “They were yelling at me, saying I was to blame for standing in the way of the company. I recognised all of them as junior managers with Herakles Farms.”

Luckily a team of French journalists happened to be trailing Nasako that day. When their truck appeared, the men let Nasako go and fled.

Tensions between the company and the villagers continued to escalate. But the company and the government were still claiming that the local people were in favour of the proposed concession and spreading this misinformation in the national and international media.

“The vast majority of the local people are against what Herakles is doing, and we wanted to show this to the world,” says Nasako.

At the request of the community, SEFE came up with a plan. In November 2012, they produced hundreds of T-shirts reading: “No plantations on our land. Herakles out”. They provided these to the villagers to wear to an installation ceremony for a new senior divisional officer in the area to make visible their opposition to the Herakles plantations. But, prior to the ceremony, a large contingent of police and soldiers invaded the SEFE offices and arrested Nasako and 5 villagers.

“They were trying to intimidate us and to provoke the people into violence,” says Nasako. “But we insisted that this was a peaceful protest, and we urged people not to engage in any physical resistance because that would serve as an excuse to make further arrests and charges.”

Despite the intimidation, around 400 people collected t-shirts. On their way to the ceremony, however, they were violently attacked and molested by the police and military and prevented from entering with their t-shirts on.

Nasako is still awaiting summons from the court to find out what he’s been charged with. The other five who were arrested were charged with taking part in the organisation of an undeclared public meeting.

Meanwhile Herakles has filed a separate case against Nasako, accusing him of defamation and suing him for damages. He’s awaiting a summons for that case too.

“I won’t have the money to pay the damages if I lose,” says Nasako. “So this would mean that I would have to go to jail.”

Neither the possibility of going to jail nor the threat to his life deters Nasako. He believes that the communities are winning their struggle. Herakles Farms now seems to be in financial trouble, and the government has forced them to scale down their project plans to 20,000 ha.

But that’s not enough for SEFE and the villagers. They want the project cancelled.

“We need to continue with the resistance. You never know if the current silence from the company is just a strategy,” warns Nasako. “We cannot rest until there is an official announcement that the contract has been cancelled. And other companies are coming in. We know that Cargill is collaborating with the international NGO Proforest to acquire land in a neighbouring area, just to the south of the Herakles proposed project.”

Nasako and his organisation SEFE need international support to help in their court cases and in their local work. Those wishing to find out more about how they can help, can contact Nasako atnasako.bondoko@gmail.com.

Read the original here:  Cameroon activist takes on land grabber from Wall Street, now faces imprisonment

 

Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises

"Non-complying member organisations can simply opt to leave the RSPO in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to comply." This is the case of Herakles Farms, Cameroon AKA SGSOC. The company withdrew from the RSPO in 2012.

“Non-complying member organisations can simply opt to leave the RSPO in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to comply.” This is the case of Herakles Farms, Cameroon AKA SGSOC. The company withdrew from the RSPO in 2012.

Large plantations are destroying forests, damaging wildlife and causing social conflict in Asia and Africa, report finds

by Jon Vidal, the Guardian

Large palm oil companies that have promised to act ethically have been accused of land grabbing, ignoring human rights and exploiting labour in their African and Asian plantations.

In a damning 400-page investigation, the companies are variously charged with impacting on orangutan populations, destroying tropical forest and burning and draining large tracks of peat swamp forest.

Sixteen palm oil concessions, in Indonesia, Liberia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, all operated by members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were visited by monitors working with international human rights groups including UK-based Forest peoples programme and Sawit Watch, from Indonesia. Local communities consistently accused the companies of not respecting their customary land rights, violating laws and court rulings and acting in such a way that encouraged conflict.

The growing global demand for palm oil has fuelled a massive expansion of plantations across the forests of southeast Asia and Africa but concerns have been growing for over a decade about the resulting environmental and social impacts. The RSPO, set up in 2004 by the industry and civil society groups including WWF, sets criteria for greener palm oil production and tries to encourage industry expansion in ways that do not cause social conflict.

About 15% of the world’s palm oil is now certified as “sustainable” by the RSPO, whose members range from some of the largest growers and traders, to relatively small companies.

“Since its founding the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many member companies are not delivering on these paper promises,” said Norman Jiwan, director of human rights group Transformasi Untuk Keadilan Indonesia.

The report will be published on Thursday in Sumatra, where over 10.8m hectares of land has been planted with oil palm trees, to coincide with the annual meeting of the RSPO in Medan, Indonesia.

It follows growing alarm at the way communities in Asia and Africa are being pushed aside to make way for large plantations and the loss of wildlife, including the tiger. Many organisations, including the World Bank, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Greenpeace and Walhi, have expressed deep concern at the resulting impoverishment of local communities and the growth of conflict around the concessions.

According to some, the RSPO’s voluntary “best practice” rules and guidelines are not working and the organisation is in danger of becoming a fig leaf for agribusiness to take advantage of weak land laws.

“Underlying this failure of ‘voluntary best practice’ are national laws and policies which deny or ignore indigenous peoples’ and communities’ land rights,” said Marcus Colchester, an adviser at Forest Peoples Programme.

“In their rush to encourage investment and exports, governments are trampling their own citizens’ rights. Global investors, retailers, manufacturers and traders must insist on dealing in conflict-free palm oil, and national governments must up their game and respect communities’ rights.”

Concern in the report centres on the Indonesian legal system which is described as “unjust” because it allows land to be expropriated from local people without regard for internationally recognised rights. Land laws favour large-scale plantations and lead to the widespread abuse of human rights. The report found that palm oil expansion in the Malaysian state of Sarawak was systematically grabbing Dayak lands without their consent.

“So much effort has been invested in the RSPO … but to little avail,” said Jefri Saragih, executive director of Sawit Watch, a founding member of the RSPO. “We can point to one or two good results on the ground, but there are thousands of land conflicts with oil palm companies in Indonesia alone, and the problem is now spreading to other parts of Asia and Africa. We are calling for an urgent and vastly expanded response to this crisis.”

The RSPO responded to the criticism in a statement. “Making the palm oil market fully sustainable is possible but only over time, and with the right levels of commitment. The RSPO depends on the goodwill of companies on the ground, and local government authorities, to ensure that these principles and criteria are abided to. There have been a number of cases of non-compliant members.”

It further said that it has strengthened its commitment towards human rights, requiring companies to implement policies to counter corruption, ban forced labour and forbid use of disputed lands. However, there is no legal compulsion on members to comply with RSPO’s principles and criteria.

“Non-complying member organisations can simply opt to leave the RSPO in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to comply.”

Read the original article at the Guardian

Palm oil: it’s in all your junk food. Do you really need it?

On the palm oil trail...

On the palm oil trail…

When the subject of palm oil is debated, sustainability is always at the center of the discussion. We focus on sustainability — growing more palm oil while minimizing damage to the environment and maximizing returns for local communities and smallholder farmers. The working assumption is that we need ever increasing quantities of palm oil to meet growing demand. Rarely do we ask what drives the demand and whether all palm oil consumption is necessary or good.

Palm oil is used in a wide array of processed foods (and cosmetics). It’s estimated that half of all products in U.S. supermarkets contain palm oil. And as more people around the world turn to processed foods, the demand for palm oil skyrockets. But diets high in processed foods are linked to obesity, diabetes and a host of costly health problems. Does the planet really need to consume more processed foods? Can we slow down the ever-increasing demand for palm oil by reducing our consumption of processed and junk foods?

It would be great if these questions were part of the palm oil debate. Smallholder farmers across the Congo Basin do need to grow and mill palm oil more efficiently to meet local demand and eliminate the need imports. But does that mean that millions of hectares of new plantations are needed?

The Rainforest Foundation in the U.K. has been pushing British producers of processed foods to use less palm oil in their products. “UK biscuit manufacturers and retailers are showing that it is possible to outright reduce the use of palm oil, which is going to have to occur globally if large areas of Africa’s rainforests are to be saved from conversion to palm plantations,” said Simon Counsell, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation (U.K.).

This is an important step — next step is for consumers to reduce their own consumption of processed foods.

Read more: Penguins support gorillas as biscuit makers respond to palm oil threat

What is the price of palm oil? from Rainforest Action Network has information on palm oil in U.S. snack foods:

Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a remarkable array of products, such as ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups.  Palm oil is also the most widely used frying oil in the world and is commonly used in the American fast food industry for products such as French fries.

The palm oil industry has grown dramatically over the past few decades and palm oil now accounts for a quarter of global vegetable oil consumption and nearly 60% of the global trade in vegetable oils. In the U.S. alone, palm oil imports have jumped 485% in the last decade.

 

 

Cameroon: Will the Cameroonian government revise the Herakles Farms contract?

Herakles Farms forest clearing for road construction. Southwest Region, Cameroon

Herakles Farms forest clearing for road construction. Southwest Region, Cameroon

Recent news out of Yaounde suggests that the Cameroonian government plans to review and revise the controversial contract (“Establishment Convention”) that granted the U.S. private investment firm, Herakles Farms, a 73,000 hectare concession in the Southwest Region.

According to press agency ECOFIN, the original contract will be nullified and replaced with a new contract. The article, posted below, points to numerous problems with the original contract. This latest development raises a host of questions, including how exactly the government will “nullify” the contract. If Herakles Farms does not agree to changes in the contract, the government of Cameroon would have to prove either that the company is violating the terms of the contract or that the contract involved corruption — a potentially long and extremely costly process.

Le Cameroun annule la première convention signée avec Herakles Farms

vendredi, 21 juin 2013 14:10

(Agence Ecofin) – Le projet de l’entreprise SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PIC (Sgsoc), filiale de l’américaine Herakles Farms au Cameroun, qui envisage de créer une palmeraie au Cameroun va être réexaminé point par point et la première convention signée avec le gouvernement camerounais ne sera plus considéré et n’aura plus aucune valeur, a confié à l’agence Ecofin le 12 juin dernier, le ministre de l’Agriculture, Essimi Menye. « Je ne connais pas tout ce qui a été signé avant. Tout sera désormais renégocié dans les règles de l’art », a confié à l’agence Ecofin le ministre qui s’est saisi du dossier.

Contrairement à ce qui a été dit ou présenté par le passé par l’entreprise, le projet d’Herakles Farms ne s’étendra pas sur 73 000 ha, mais sur 20 000 ha. « Les responsables d’Herakles Farms sont venus d’eux-mêmes me voir la semaine dernière (semaine du 03 au 07 juin, ndlr) avec leur business plan. Un business plan dans lequel ils faisaient ressortir qu’ils ont un projet de palmeraie sur une superficie de 20 000 hectares. Ils sont venus me présenter leur projet et les zones qu’ils veulent exploiter et même les propriétaires des terres qui ont accepté de leur céder leurs terres. Donc, ce n’est pas le ministre de l’Agriculture qui a demandé qu’Herakles revoie à la baisse la superficie de son projet. Ils sont venus me voir afin que je donne mon OK pour ce projet. Et je leur ai dit qu’on va le faire, mais qu’on va revenir point par point sur les conditions de la convention », explique Essimi Menye.

Le ministre ne veut pas comprendre qu’il y a une convention qui a été signée par le passé. Interrogé sur le coût de location des terres dont l’hectare était cédé à 500 Francs CFA dans la première convention, le ministre dit que tout sera revu. « Je vous dis que je ne connais pas tout ce qui a été signé avant ou tout ce qui était fait avant. Le projet vient d’arriver sur ma table et nous allons l’examiner point par point avant de signer une convention ».

Contacté par Ecofin pour confirmer ces affirmations, Herakles est longtemps resté muet, refusant de donner un commentaire à ces affirmations. Joint à nouveau hier, 20 juin 2013, par Ecofin, le responsable de la cellule de la communication d’Herakles Farms au Cameroun est resté sur la même position, déclarant que l’entreprise américaine ne peut réagir pour le moment. « Nous sommes encore en négociation avec le gouvernement camerounais. Nous ne pouvons faire aucun commentaire sur les déclarations du gouvernement », a-t-il déclaré en promettant de nous contacter quand Herakles décidera enfin de communiquer.

Au ministère de l’Agriculture et au ministère des Forêts et de la Faune, sous anonymat, des responsables s’accordent à dire que la première convention signée avec Herakles Farms été signé par des personnes qui ne connaissaient pas l’agriculture, les forêts et l’importance de la terre.

Non à l’enlèvement du bois

C’est le 17 septembre 2009 que l’entreprise américaine avait signé avec le gouvernement camerounais représenté par le ministre de l’Economie, du Plan et de l’Aménagement du territoire, Louis Paul Motazé, une convention. Mais, ce projet est toujours controversé, même au sein du gouvernement camerounais.

« Le problème avec ce projet, explique Essimi Menye, c’est qu’ils voulaient que le bois enlevé sur la surface leur appartienne. C’est à ce moment que le ministre des Forêts et de la Faune leur a dit ’’Non’’. Le bois enlevé sur la surface ne leur appartient pas. Ils veulent juste créer une plantation. » « Figurez-vous qu’ils voulaient même s’accaparer du sable, pas seulement du bois », révèle le ministre.

Il y a trois semaines, le ministre des Forêts et de la Faune, Philip Ngole Ngwese, a publié dans la presse camerounaise un communiqué indiquant que « la signature le 17 septembre 2009 d’une convention entre le gouvernement du Cameroun représenté par le MINEPAT et la société SGSOC pour la mise sur pied d’une grande plantation industrielle de palmiers à huile et d’une raffinerie sur la superficie de 73 086 hectares dans les départements du Ndian et du Koupe-Manengoumba, n’exemptait pas ladite entreprise du respect de l’ensemble des procédures et contraintes environnementales liées à la mise en œuvre d’un projet de cette envergure, notamment celles relatives aux enlèvements de bois dans le périmètre ».

Suspension d’abattage du bois

En novembre 2012, Philip Ngole Ngwese avait autorisé l’entreprise américaine à effectuer une coupe de sauvetage sur une parcelle de 2 500 ha près de Talangaye. Le 22 avril dernier, le ministre des Forêts, constatant que l’entreprise américaine n’avait pas encore respecté tous les règlements et lois en vigueur, avait suspendu l’abattage des arbres sur le site du projet à Talangaye, dans l’arrondissement de Nguti, dans la région du Sud-Ouest.

Mais, le 29 mai, Philip Ngole Ngwese, est revenu sur sa décision, contre toute attente. Dans une lettre adressée au directeur général de SGSOC dont Ecofin s’est procurée une copie, le ministre écrit : « J’ai l’honneur de vous faire connaitre que la mesure suspensive de l’autorisation d’abattage des arbres sur le site de votre projet agro-industriel sis à Talangaye, arrondissement de Nguti, région du Sud-Ouest, édictée par ma correspondance susvisée, est levée à compter de la date de la signature de la présente dépêche ».

La lettre poursuit avec des indications importantes : « Je vous rappelle à cet égard que les opérations d’abattage doivent se dérouler conformément aux lois et règlements en vigueur, sous la supervision du délégué régional des Forêts et de la Faune du Sud-Ouest ». Cette seconde phrase de la lettre du ministre est un piège, car finalement le ministre n’autorise pas formellement Herakles Farms à poursuivre ses travaux. C’est en effet ce qu’explique à Ecofin un cadre du ministère des Forêts et de la Faune (Minfof). « Le ministre des Forêts précise que pour les opérations d’abattage il faut que la réglementation soit respectée. La réglementation stipule par exemple qu’avant tout abattage, il faudrait obtenir une Autorisation d’enlèvement de bois abattus (AEB). Et c’est le ministre qui délivre ce document. Or, le ministre n’a pas encore délivré toutes les autorisations à Herakles Farms. Ainsi, suivant cette lettre, le délégué régional avant de donner le Ok pour l’abattage des arbres va demander à SGSOC de lui indiquer s’il a rempli toutes les procédures. Donc, HeraKles Farms ne pourrait pas reprendre ses travaux s’il ne se conforme pas à la réglementation », explique notre source au Minfof.

Pourquoi ce quiproquo dans les autorisations et les suspensions qui se succèdent ? Ecofin a appris que le ministre aurait signé cette lettre levant la suspension d’abattage des arbres sur instructions de sa hiérarchie, à la suite des pressions que l’entreprise américaine aurait exercé sur des hauts fonctionnaires.

Riposte des Ong

Des Ong nationales et internationales n’ont pas cessé de dénoncer le projet d’Herakles Farms au Cameroun. Selon Ludovic Miaro III, le coordonnateur régional du Programme palmier à huile du WWF en Afrique centrale explique dans un communiqué que « d’un côté, nous avons une entreprise qui opère, sans autorisations légales, sur des terres publiques, en violation flagrante des normes sociales et environnementales nationales et internationales. Il s’agit de facto d’un acte d’accaparement illégal des terres par Herakles Farms ».

« Si le projet continue, prévient pour sa part Samuel Nguiffo du Centre pour l’environnement et le développement (CED) qui a d’ailleurs demandé au gouvernement américain d’enquêter au Cameroun sur les pratiques d’herakles, les communautés locales qui dépendent de leurs terres traditionnelles et de la forêt pour leur subsistance seront expropriés, avec des conséquences négatives certaines, qui se traduirons par une augmentation de l’insécurité alimentaire et une instabilité sociale ». Avis.

When fraud goes green

NtaleTshirt-resz

T shirts made by local residents to protest Herakles Farms, Southwest Region, Cameroon.

 

Reprinted from Al Jazeera Opinion

Herakles Farms appears to be operating illegally in Cameroon, lacking required government permits.

June 9, 2013

By Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a policy think-tank dedicated to increasing public participation and promoting debate on social, economic and environmental policies that impact our lives.

In late May, the Oakland Institute and Greenpeace International publicly released internal documents of a New York-based corporation which is in the midst of constructing a massive palm oil plantation in the world’s second largest rainforest. The communications have brought to light an age-old tale of greed and deceit wrapped in the wholly modern packaging of international development work and green consumerism.

At the heart of this story is Herakles Farms (HF), a subsidiary of venture investment firm Herakles Capital: a heroic name which aptly frames the gallant branding necessary to secure support. On its public site, the phrases “sustainable”, “poverty reduction” and “environmentally benign” are used liberally to describe the forthcoming plantation. However, as the leaked documents reveal, behind the scenes lies a very different story, one which shows a startling disregard for the noble goals on which Herakles claims to be founded.

At the helm of this venture stands CEO Bruce Wrobel, a man who extols the company’s sustainability mission, going so far as to declare: “Throughout my entire life I have considered myself to be an environmentalist and an activist for the poor.” Yet the company is constructing what it claims will be among “the largest palm-oil plantations in all of Africa” – an area roughly 12 times the size of Manhattan – in a hotspot of biodiversity. Last year, after complaints about Herakles to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) highlighted the company’s alleged environmental violations, Wrobel made no attempts to set the record straight. Instead, Herakles resigned from the Roundtable before the claims were to be investigated, spuriously stating that they “remain committed” to RSPO’s standards.

Shockingly, Herakles’ wayward actions continued with brazen attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of many more than just its “green” supporters. As the documents reveal, the company also appears to be knowingly lying to its investors about its viability and financial health.

Perhaps the most important debunking of Herakles’ claims by Greenpeace and Oakland is the well-guarded secret that the company is operating without all required permits in Cameroon, and therefore, the legality of its operations is questionable. In communications with investors, Herakles assures that it has “secured a 99-year lease… and also received all required permits and approvals to commence field operations”. But in an internal communication, a senior Herakles official states unequivocally: “We do not have the required government approvals for field planting.”

Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has on numerous occasions – the most recent, just last month – formally warned the company to stop felling trees until it receives the necessary approvals. Among these missing approvals is a signed presidential decree required to validate the leases of all land concessions of more than 50 hectares on public lands in Cameroon. Yet despite its many reproaches, Herakles proceeds with impunity.

Not only is Herakles knocking down the trees, but the company assures investors that it will go on to sell the timber, which it believes will result in “a potential upside of $60 to $90 million over the next seven years”. Yet in an open letter, written by CEO Wrobel in September in an attempt to pacify the project’s growing number of critics, he stated: “We surrendered the timber to the government [for] a lower lease rate.”

This unabashedly two-faced style of negotiation by Herakles betrays a greater truth: that many foreign investors see Africa as the new Wild West where laws can be bent at will. The laws seem to become particularly pliant when the company is, as one senior employee reveals to be the case for Herakles, “in a cash crunch”. The fact of Herakles’ operations appears to be that Wrobel and his cohort are in over their heads and are desperate to cover their shortfalls.

The company did, however, take its public mission to address “a dire humanitarian need”, straight to the communities and local leaders. It did so by dangling the promise of hospitals, jobs, food security and “tremendous long-term benefits”, and managed to gain pockets of consent in the area, to which it now clings as proof of its right to operate.

In the meantime, local people have come to terms with the notion that they have been hoodwinked by Herakles. Their dreams of stronger infrastructure began to evaporate at the moment when, instead of hospitals and jobs, the only new features to materialise in the area were red tape perimeters and warning signs, flaunting the fact that their land rights had been forfeited.

Now villages and local NGOs have mobilised – and they are seeking support from international civil society organisations to undo what amounts to a herculean human rights and environmental catastrophe. This is a sobering lesson for all parties involved – that the land rush by foreign investors into African nations is not philanthropically driven, despite claims to the contrary. Rather, companies such as Herakles Farms have exploited images of poverty and hunger, and couched their efforts in the language of sustainability, allowing them to handily reap profits from Africa’s resources while undermining national laws, local communities and the environment.

While investors may have initially bought into Wrobel’s multi-tiered façade of the perfect “sustainable” investment with the promise of mega-returns, it is time to come to terms with the fact that they, too, are among the victims of Herakles’ many deceptions. But the time is now to begin to make things right, and the first step is to help the Cameroonian people free themselves from Herakles’ greenwashed snare by demanding accountability.

This is not a rebuke to the very real efforts to bring infrastructure and aid to Africa. However, it must serve as an imperative for the international community to proceed only with the understanding that Africa is open for business, not for theft.

Anuradha Mittal is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a policy think-tank dedicated to increasing public participation and promoting debate on social, economic and environmental policies that impact our lives. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Mittaloak

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.