A US-owned company is clearing natural forest in the southwest of Cameroon to establish a large-scale palm oil plantation, heightening social tension as serious questions about the legality of the project persist.
Aerial footage by Greenpeace taken earlier this month shows how trees in the largely forested concession area have been cleared by SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), a subsidiary of New York-based Herakles Farms.
The deforestation is taking place despite the fact SGSOC is operating via a 99-year land lease that has not yet been approved by Presidential Decree and is therefore questionable under Cameroonian Law.
If it is not stopped, the planned 730km2 concession will eventually be almost half the size of the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area, or 10 times the size of Manhattan. It would destroy a densely forested area in a biodiversity hotspot, resulting in severe consequences for the livelihoods of thousands of residents and for the global climate.
"Any large scale industrial projects in an area that is one of the most important watersheds in sub-Saharan Africa and located in one of Africa's most important biodiversity hotspots are entirely unsuitable," said Frédéric Amiel, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace International.
"The Herakles Farms plantation must be stopped with no conditions."
Despite claims from the company that the palm oil plantation would spur local economic growth and social development, local and international opposition continues to grow and the continued clearing risks heightening social conflict over the project.
Information received by Greenpeace International indicates that local farmers and villagers are opposed to the plans for their land, imposed without their consultation. People working for SGSOC, meanwhile, are increasingly dissatisfied with pay and working conditions.
Greenpeace International is also alarmed by indications that people who have objected to the project have been harassed at the hands of Cameroonian authorities.
On November 14, Nasako Besingi the director of the local NGO Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), an organisation campaigning peacefully against the Herakles Farms project, was arrested with three colleagues and detained without charge.
All four were later released following international and local pressure.
Greenpeace calls upon the Cameroonian government to halt the forest clearance, end the project and set up better standards for land allocation and palm oil development in Cameroon that will prevent social conflict, disruption of Cameroonian livelihoods and forest destruction.