Tell a friend to tell a friend that “Backroom Bullying the Role of The US Government in the Herakles Farms’ Land Grabbing in Cameroon” is a must read. This report by Oakland Institute, one of the toughest advocates against land grabbing globally, examines cables obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and literally highlights and explains how the US Embassy in Cameroon pressured the Cameroonian authorities to sign a land deal with Herakles Farms, a US-based agribusiness. According to the cables, the then ambassador to Cameroon threatened the Cameroonian authorities that “…a failure to act could cause uncertainty in the local business climate and have a chilling effect on future foreign investment.”
This captivating report shows specifically on page 10 how the US Government’s lobbying on behalf of Herakles Farms undermines its own policies among them the protection of forests and wildlife. The US government also ignored numerous studies which called for the cancellation of the project. In an open letter, 11 scientists from the United States, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands argued that Herakles Farms’ “Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, including their analysis of High Conservation Value Forest, were poorly conducted and failed to evaluate adequately the flora and fauna of the proposed plantation area and the ecological and social impact of the plantation…their conclusions reached regarding the state of the forest or the putative absence of threatened plant or animal species cannot be supported.”
Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), after receiving letters from the affected communities asking for our support to advocate on their behalf in Washington, visited the project in South West Cameroon in 2013. We discovered that the potential socio-economic, environmental and political impacts of this land grab was enormous. In our report, we called on the US Congress and Administration to question Herakles Farms’ practices in Cameroon because its was not meeting the standards and expectations of the people of Cameroon or the US. We specifically asked that Herakles Farms be held accountable for violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, Cameroonian laws and other international standards. We mentioned for example that Herakles’ Cameroonian surrogates targeted local government officials, chiefs and other influential members of the community by distributing money and whiskey to lure them into signing on to the project.
The original land lease granted to Herakles Farms in 2009 by the Cameroonian Ministry of Economy, Planning and Territorial Development was for 73,086 hectares (282 square miles). The then-US ambassador to Cameroon had to lobby Cameroonian President Paul Biya because of the April 27, 1976 law N°76/166 which stipulates that any land deal over 50 Hectares (123.55 Acres) requires the presidential decree, which Herakles Farms did not have.
On November 25, 2013, instead of canceling the project as we had insisted, President Biya conceded to US pressure as evidenced in the US cables and signed a decree which was very much modified with significant concessions to the local farmers and national and international advocacy groups opposed to the project. The decree legalized a land deal of 19,843 hectares (77 square miles) instead of the original 73,086 hectares (282 square miles). It modified the term to a provisional three years instead of the initial 99 years renewable. Finally, the decree also increased lease price to $3.95 per hectare per year instead of $1 or 0.50 cents per hectare per year, depending on whether the land is used or not. Now that the provisional three years are up for renewal, we hope that the Cameroonian government will cancel the project. We call on the US government, particularly the US Embassy in Cameroon to withdraw its support for this project because of its devastating social, environmental and economic consequences.
by Ntama Bahati Jacques, AFJN Policy Analyst