Cameroon: NO to land grabbing for palm oil!

Farmers protesting at a Socfin plantation in Cameroon David vs. Goliath: “Bolloré stole our land, and now our freedom.” (© ReAct)

6,000 small farmers and their families in Cameroon have had their livelihoods wiped out by Socfin, a Luxembourg-based company that grabbed their land for plantations. Please tell Socfin and major shareholder Bolloré to respect their rights and return their land.

Call to action

To: the managements of Socfin and the Bolloré Group

Respect the rights of farmers in Cameroon who are standing up against land grabbing.

Read letter

Desperate smallholders in Cameroon are taking matters in their own hands and blockading plantations run by Socfin, a subsidiary of the Bolloré investment group. Socfin is planting oil palms and rubber trees on 43,700 hectares – land that happens to include the plots of 6,000 smallholders. “These lands were stolen from us. We come now to take them back and occupy them until an agreement with Bolloré and Socfin is reached,” says farmer Michel Essonga in Dibombari.

Socfin has an enormous appetite for land: in 2014, it planted oil palms on around 116,000 hectares in several African countries – an increase of eight percent within one year. The company also added 55,000 hectares of rubber plantations.

“People are outraged,” says Emmanuel Elong, president of the International Alliance of Plantation Communities. While the protesters hope to negotiate a settlement with Socfin, many fear that the police will eventually use force to break up their nonviolent protest.

Socfin rejects the protesters’ allegations and insists that its plantations are “vanguards of social progress”. The multibillion Bolloré Group, which holds a 39% stake in Socfin, claims it has no influence over the company’s actions. Emmanuel Elong retorts: “Bolloré cashes in its Socfin dividends all the while denying its responsibility.”

The problem is not limited to Cameroon: thousands have taken to the streets in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Cambodia in recent weeks to protest Socfin’s practices.

The smallholders are calling on Socfin and the Bolloré Group to compensate them, respect their land rights and return the plots on which they depend.  Please lend your voice to their demands.

Back­ground

Socfin – Société Financière des Caoutchouc – is headquartered in Luxembourg. The company, which was founded to exploit the Belgian Congo in the 19th century, currently operates rubber and oil palm plantations in Africa and Asia. Hubert Fabri, a Belgian citizen, is the company’s president and a major shareholder.

Its most prominent shareholder is Bolloré, a French investment and industrial holding group. Billionaire Vincent Bolloré is one of the richest men in France and a member of the Socfin board. The Bolloré Group is one of the world’s top 500 companies with around 54,000 employees and a turnover of €10 billion in 2014. Its business interests include industrial agriculture, energy, media and real estate. In Africa, the Bolloré Group is active in 43 countries and operates 13 major ports. The Oakland Institute has described Vincent Bolloré as “an investor with an octopus reach in Africa”.

Letter

To: the managements of Socfin and the Bolloré Group

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Smallholders in Cameroon are currently blockading Socfin plantations in an unresolved land conflict.

6,000 farmers in Cameroon alone have been impacted by Socfin’s expansion. The locals see this as a violation of their land rights. Furthermore, they assert that compensation agreements have been ignored.

The farmers have united in an international alliance in hopes of negotiating a settlement with you. In light of the failure of earlier talks, they do not rule out further actions, and many fear that their peaceful protest will be struck down violently.

Please do not let it come to that. I call on you to respect the rights of the farmers and their families to their land and negotiate with those affected to resolve the conflict.

Kind regards,

Topic

The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
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