Forest riches, continued

Barkcloth and the wood used to make it. Lipenja II, Southwest Region, Cameroon

Lipenja II, Southwest Region, Cameroon

Checking out barkcloth and the wood used to make it in Lipenja II, one of the villages located inside the Herakles Farms palm oil concession area. Lipenja II is surrounded by dense forest. There’s a dirt road that connects Mundemba to Fabe and Lipenja, but from  Lipenja to Lipenja II there’s nothing more than a narrow motorcycle track the villagers have cleared themselves. Although Lipenja II is only about 55 km (35 miles) from Mundemba, the trip to Lipenja II takes well over two hours during the dry season.

In Lipenja II the forest is the source of food and income for everyone. The villagers have their farm plots inside the forest, where they grow food crops and cocoa. They gather fruits, nuts, honey, bark and plants for food and medicine. The women sell bush mango seeds to Nigerian traders who travel throughout the area. The forest is everything, people say.

The villagers in Lipenja II are opposed to the Herakles Farms project. The company says it will not go where it is not welcome. But many questions remain. Will the voices of the villagers be heard in what has been a “top-down” and secretive project from the start?  And if the project respects the villagers’ wishes, how much forest will be left standing around Lipenja II and what will that mean for the future of the village?

People in Lipenja II are vocal about the need for development. They want a decent road to connect their village to Mundemba (and beyond), so they can get perishable crops to market. There’s no radio or mobile phone coverage in Lipenja II and villagers want improved communications. They want jobs. But they don’t want projects imposed from outside that take away what is most valuable: the forest.

Barkcloth. Lipenja II, Southwest Region, Cameroon

Barkcloth. Lipenja II, Southwest Region, Cameroon


Logging by another name?


GWZ Wijma sawmill, Nguti, Southwest Region, Cameroon

GWZ Wijma sawmill, Nguti, Southwest Region, Cameroon


Although deforestation across the Congo Basin has not been as dramatic as in West Africa where the rainforests have largely disappeared, logging and illegal logging are serious threats. In Cameroon, for example, more than 13% of the country’s forest cover was last between 1990 and 2005 due to logging, agriculture and the search for fuel.

The increasing number of palm oil concessions across the Congo Basin, some granted to companies with no agricultural experience, has raised suspicions that certain concessions may be “timber grabs”.

Seeds of Destruction, the new report from the Rainforest Foundation (U.K.) describes the case of Atama Plantations, a 470,000 hectare palm oil project, in the Republic of Congo:

In February 2012, Wah Seong Corporation, a Bursa Malaysia (formerly the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange) listed company, announced its intended purchase of a majority 51% stake in Atama Resources Inc, thus becoming majority owners of the oil palm plantation project in Congo. 

Previously, Wah Seong has principally been involved in the manufacturing of specialist metal pipes for the oil and gas industry. The company’s only previous connection to oil palm in Africa was the supply of equipment for palm oil refineries, and this will be its first venture into the oil palm plantation industry….

Stock-watchers have questioned how Wah Seong can afford the costs of developing the massive new oil palm plantation, which they estimate at US$650 million. One analyst has suggested that the cost “could be partly offset by forest clearance such as sale of logs”. This has often happened in the past in Indonesia. Evidence obtained by RFUK suggests that the forests Atama is planning to convert are indeed primary forests with significant timber stocks. The potential profits from harvesting this timber may be one of the main driving factors behind the development.

In 2012 the company had already harvested almost 15,000 cubic metres of timber at its first development in Epoma in Sangha, yet had thus far only cleared 120 hectares. If most of it is primary forest, by a rough yet conservative estimate, the 180,000 hectares the company plans to convert could yield timber worth more than $500 million.