SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PLC (SGSOC), a palm oil developer in the Southwest Region of Cameroon has been dragged to court, reports Greenpeace Africa. 244 farmers from local communities affected by this large-scale palm oil plantation have taken their case to the Court of First Instance in Bangem, Southwest Cameroon, with the first hearing set for 9 November, reports Greenpeace Africa.
Greenpeace Africa has since 2009 championed campaigns to stop SGSOC from developing palm trees in the ecologically sensitive region of the Southwest region. Greenpeace supports efforts by the local communities to sue SGSOC.
This announcement follows two collective complaints involving 244 farmers which were filed against SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC) on 27 September for trespass to land. 231 of these farmers originated from the village of Nguti, whose population demanded that SGSOC would respect a 5km buffer zone around their farmlands. However, the concession area demarcated by SGSOC encroaches on many farms in the forest areas around Nguti, showing no respect for the buffer zone, says Greenpeace.
“How are we going to live if SGSOC takes our farms? How are we going to eat? I have no other means. I don’t want money, because who knows for how many years it will last? It won’t help my children and grandchildren, but my farm will, as I have crops every year,” said Susan Tah Agbo, who takes care of 24 people thanks to her 20 hectares (49 acres) of farmland.
In Babensi II, 13 farmers also went to court as their lands have been seized by SGSOC, without any consultation or prior agreement, writes Greenpeace Africa. “One day, I came to my farm, and I found that they had bulldozed everything. I knew I was going to develop this place to earn my living and when I die, my children will remain there, but today, I have no place. We are all crying here, and we don’t know how we can be rescued”, said Adolf Ngbe Ebong, a 62-year-old retired policeman.
SGSOC, the Cameroonian company which holds a concession of approximately 20,000 hectares for palm oil plantation development, was owned by the US-based company Herakles Farms until 2015. Since 2009, when the company settled in Cameroon, Greenpeace Africa and national and international NGOs have released numerous documents based on investigations into the many misdeeds of SGSOC.
“SGSOC activities are tainted with illegalities. Not only does their establishment convention with the Cameroonian government violate the law, but they also cleared the forest without a permit, intimidated several traditional chiefs and used bribery and promises which are yet to be realized to obtain local authorities’ favors”, said Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, Greenpeace Africa forest campaigner.
The provisional land lease granted via a presidential decree in November 2013 to SGSOC expires this November. A coalition of several NGOs, of which Greenpeace is a part, today launched a petition in Cameroon and internationally, to ask the Cameroonian government not to extend or to renew it.
“SGSOC violated the law many times and didn’t fulfill the numerous promises they made to the communities, such as the building of roads and schools, so one can’t think how they could improve. Cameroon needs development, but always while protecting local communities and the significant biodiversity that surrounds them. SGSOC is a destructive project, located in between four protected areas, so it must end,” added Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue.
The project site is located in the Guinean forest of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, which shelters 1,800 endemic species of vascular plants and an extraordinary diversity of the world’s top species priorities for primate conservation.