29 February 2016

Africa: 'Socfin Expansion in Africa Threatens Forests Essential for Preservation of Climate Balances,' Says Greenpeace

An investigation conducted by Greenpeace on Socfin, a company owned 38.75% by Bolloré group, has revealed the impact of the company's plantations on forests, communities and wildlife in Africa.

The report, 'Africa's forests under threat', shows that Socfin's expansion plans in a dozen countries, mostly in Africa, are threatening forests that are essential for the preservation of climate balances, biodiversity and communities livelihood and calls on CEO Vincent Bolloré to immediately commit against deforestation.

An increasing number of investments are being made, with investors attracted by favourable climatic conditions and above all by soft regulations that are either not applied - in particular due to corruption - or that are particularly favourable to foreign investment, according to the report.

Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (Socfin) is reportedly the leading planter in Africa, though little known to the general public on the continent, it has been operating in the continent for over a century, says Greenpeace.

In the report, Greenpeace France investigates Socfin's activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome-Principe, including primary and secondary plantations and accused the agricbussiness companynof of involving in many conflicts with forest communities.

"We found that some concessions border onto unique ecosystems, as in São Tomé where they are located next to a national park that is home to remarkable biodiversity. However, unlike its main competitors in the palm oil sector, Socfin has no policy to combat deforestation and end the land conflicts," says Cécile Leuba, campaigner for Greenpeace France.

In Sao Tome, according to Greenpeace's estimations, the total amount of carbon stored in these cleared forests exceeded 600 000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

Owner of Bollore Croup, Vincent Bolloré, was urged to use his influence to make Socfin immediately commit to a credible zero deforestation plantation policy that respects the rights of local communities, while at the same time, the Bolloré Group must publish a zero deforestation policy that covers all of its investments in the sector.

"To prevent African forests from being subjected to the same fate as Indonesian or Malaysian forests, investors must immediately adopt zero deforestation policies, together with social safeguards. The Bolloré Group cannot clear itself of its responsibility with regard to Socfin's practices," concludes Cécile Leuba.

Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, the agricultural company has been at loggerheads with land owners in Sahn Malen chiefdom, in the Pujehun district, southern Sierra Leone, with the later alleging land grabbing and loss of cultivation rights.

Socfin claimed to have invested over $100million in the area, but land owners and civil society organisations have consistently accused them of grabbing lands without going through the right process.

The dispute between the company and landowners reached a boiling point few weeks ago when a court slammed heavy fines or alternate jail terms imposed on six land rights activists, including Hon. Shaka Sama, a former Member of Parliament.

The High Court in Bo convicted the land right activists for destroying 40 palm trees that belonged to the company. The judge sentenced the men to six months in prison or ordered that they pay more than $10,000.

A campaign to help raise the fines on behalf of the 'MALAO six' has gained momentum both within and without the country, with millions donated. Hon. Sama has been released, as a result, though the other five are yet to pay their fines.

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