ISABELLE RICQ            


Cameroon : The Socapalm company (Cameroonian company of palm groves) is Cameroon’s main producer of palm oil. This former state-owned company was privatized in the year 2000 for the benefit of the Belgian group Socfinal, of which the French group Bolloré holds 38.75%.

Far from appeasing the relations between these gigantic plantations and the local populations, privatization has exacerbated the conflicts and the new board of directors hardens the methods of yesteryear; destruction of surrounding forests, seizing of land, evictions of villagers, pollution of watercourses or widespread use of subcontracting.

In April 2009 Socapalm was looking for shareholders to enter the stock market: Become a shareholder of a flagship agribusiness in Cameroon, become a shareholder of Socapalm - Cameroon said the brochure.
The floor is given to the actors of this conflict.

This work has been achieved in February and March 2009, in collaboration with journalist NOMBA Danielle.

We lived there.

They asked us 200000 CFA [300 euros] to stay. As we could not pay they chased us out. It hurts me to see that. The people of Socapalm have come here a few times, we told them to leave us some forest to hunt but they do not want to.

The people of the plantation make fun of us, they call us monkeys, rats.

Pygmy village known as Bidou III

The children hang out because we do not have a school next door.

We do not have a health center either, we have nothing. There is a dispensary in the plantation but they refuse to treat us because we do not have a Socapalm registration number.

TOMI Thérésia
Inhabitant of the pygmy village known as Kilombo I

That's what’s left for us to hunt: rat.

Pygmy village known as Kilombo I

A tall man bought the land on which we lived without even coming to see us. They said that the land does not belong to us.

We Pygmies do not have land. Even where we are installed at the moment they can come and chase us away without asking our opinion.

Notable of the pygmy village known as Bidou III 

We are angry because we called on the director of Socapalm but he turned us back and told us that he did not have to talk to the villagers.

Socapalm has occupied all the surrounding forest, everything is already invaded, there is no forest left for us, and Socapalm does not accept that we farm here. They say we can not make a field in another field.

The plantations say they have already paid compensation for the occupation of the land, but we have not touched anything. Who took this money? Authorities?

Notable of the pygmy village known as Kilombo I

They threaten us. If they find a village field they sack it without asking our opinion. They say that the land belongs to them.

Notable of the pygmy village known as Kilombo I

Socapalm forbids us to go into their fields without being whipped by their guardians. If we take a nut, they beat us up and drive us to prison. Even if we go on their way, with or without nuts, they create a motive to beat us up.

They have security companies that work for them, they sometimes even come with the authorities to break our villages, but do they have permission to exercise their law out of the field?

YENGÉ Petit-Jean
Inhabitant of the pygmy village known as Kilombo I

The forest is no longer fertile here, and our only game today is the rat.

Sometimes we find hedgehog or porcupine but there are many species that we do not see anymore, such as buffaloes, antelopes or wild boars.

Pygmy village known as Kilombo I

Socapalm put me on my knees, Socapalm destroyed me, Socapalm shattered me, Socapalm turned me into a being who no longer exists and who may never exist again.

I had based all my projects, all my hopes, on the family land that you see there, and it is the artificial sewers created by the Socapalm: the sewage of the factory leave and destroy my field.

Chief of the Grand-Mifi community

They destroy all my crops. They destroy me.

Nothing grows, the bad ash comes out of the factory and covers everything. It can not grow, it can not give anything.

Chief of the Grand-Mifi community

We have to consume water from the river: upstream they wash their sprayers, their cans of eradication products, toxic products, chemical weed control and others and downstream we drink this water, we cook and wash with it.

The pre-privatization Socapalm had installed a generator and boreholes, we could drink good quality water. Today all these projects have fallen into ruin.

ELONG Emmanuel
Rural Development Officer, native of Mbonjo

We are the rights holders of the lands taken by the Socapalm, we have been expropriated, we want to recover our rights on the lands taken by the Socapalm.

We ask to see the specifications, notarial acts, promised infrastructures, schools, hospitals, roads, electricity.
They do not keep their word, they promised us schools, clinics, jobs, roads, local executives ...

Today we have no more land to work, we have become beggars, we must seek new lands to cultivate far from home.

Head of the Bomono Land Census Commission

People did not want to leave, they did not want to leave this village, so to leave they had to set their houses on fire.

It was 20 years ago, no one has ever been compensated.

Head of the Bomono Land Census Commission

Since 30 years Socapalm is installed we still have no electricity, our streets are not maintained.
At this very moment, they are sending back the Cameroonian executives and they are sending Western executives who are not even as competent as the locals. See this injustice.
How do you want us to support? And until when?

That's why we are fighting, because tomorrow or the day after tomorrow people will rise, and I would like this to be highlighted in red. Maybe I will not be here anymore, but if I'm here I'll be at the head of the rebellion.

[Isaac Mondo died 5 days after our interview]

His Majesty Isaac MONDO
Group Leader of Bomono-ba-Mbengué

When Socapalm settled here they asked all the villagers to leave the place and settle elsewhere.
The Caterpillar came to break the houses of those who did not want to leave.

The man who lives here insisted not to leave because his father's grave is there behind and because he has no land to go to.

So Socapalm surrounded his house with palm trees.

NGANDO Guillaume
Inhabitant of Mbonjo

This district of Mbonjo has been completely razed to the ground, there are only two houses left here, two dads who have decided to stay on their lands that now belong to the Socapalm.

The palm trees have invaded the house, they are in the Socapalm plantation.
There are palm trees in front of and behind the house and during the harvest the bunches fall on the roof, so we have to replace the sheets of metal every 3 months, and these expenses it is the father alone who supports them.

ELONG Emmanuel
Rural Development Officer, native of Mbonjo

Upon arrival Socapalm razed all the tombs that were not cemented, and then planted its palm trees on top. This is my grandfather's grave, it was the only one to be cemented in the village, so it's the only one left of this cemetery today.

It is not given to anyone to cement a grave, you must have the means, be a family a little wealthy. Between us in the village we tease each other, we say:  “And you, who are you, your father carries a palm tree on his head!

ELONG Emmanuel
Rural Development Officer, native of Mbonjo

I do not have a large plantation, being independent I manage to get out, it would not be the case with Socapalm, because they buy the ton cheaper, with them you hardly win 100,000 CFA francs per month [ 150 euros].

Socapalm could build schools, health centers, they have been in the area for more than 25 years but they have never done anything for the population.
We have young people in the village who are full of diplomas but who are unemployed. Socapalm hires only foreigners, as if we were worthless.

Independent planter since 1998

Mr. Director,

You can see that the small plot that Socapalm left to our parents is not enough to contain all three of us with our families. To avoid a revolt, which by comparing the two forces could only serve our destruction; we ask you, Mr. Director, to leave around the grant of our parents an area of at least six hectares for our hut and later those of each of our children.

We count on your prompt response and ask you to receive the expression of our devoted feelings.

Widow EPOUPA Marie
Inhabitant of Nkapa

The wages of the cutters were reassessed after two weeks of strike.

We can now expect to earn between 25,000 and 50,000 CFA francs per month [between 38 and 75 euros], depending on the season.

The shippers, meanwhile, receive 425 CFA francs per ton conveyed [64 euro cents].

Subcontracted workers of Socapalm plantations

Did you come to film the slaves?

Subcontracted workers from the Socapalm plantation in Kienke

Here everything is outsourced, Socapalm employees supervise the work only.
In Kienké there are more than 2000 contract workers for 330 Socapalm employees.

Gabain PONSU
Senior Assistant of the Socapalm Plantation of Kienke

You can film, it won’t change our situation.

Subcontracted workers from the Socapalm plantation in Kienke

Whoever says oil palm in a forest environment says inevitably threat because this monoculture depletes the soil, promotes erosion and the lure of profit that the palm represents is so strong that people do not hesitate to use wild practices.

Professor Martin FOUDA
Director of the professional Master in Environment of the University of Douala

These plantations operate on a colonial pattern, these lands are taken on the traditional lands of the communities.
What the settler did not understand was that there is no no man's land in Africa: there are rights on every forest area, there are communities claiming rights on these lands and on its resources.

Today, this model is perpetuated by giving land to large companies that create plantations on whose behalf the forest is cut and replaced by monocultures which, in addition, require large quantities of chemicals.

These communities can no longer feed themselves or heal themselves, nor can they completely adapt to the way of life they are trying to impose on them.
Cultural rights are not protected, and commercial rights are allocated without regard to indigenous peoples ... is this development?

Secretary General of the Center for Environment and Development

I knew the two phases of Socapalm's history since the company was privatized in the year 2000; I was therefore in a state company from 1987 to 2000, then in a private company since.

I think the difference is that a state-owned corporation is not about maximizing profits; we create a plantation for a social purpose, for the purpose of development, for the purpose of employment, but for a private company it is the profit which is the generating vector of all activity.

So the private sector minimizes the costs, reduces the basic expenses to get the best benefit.
There is a clear difference.

OUM Janvier
Director Fields, agricultural manager of the Socapalm plantation of Kienke

The name of Kilombo [name given to one of the pygmy camps] comes from a Brazilian soap opera about slavery that was broadcasted on Cameroon television in the 1980s.

Kilombo was the name of the village of rebel slaves.

Gabain PONSU
Senior Assistant of the Socapalm Plantation of Kienke

We are doing an extension of the plantation.

See the areas that are empty; we are going to replace these areas which are empty, which have been abandoned because at the time we did not move in the swampy lowlands or in the hills, but with the new techniques we can do drainages, we can plant in the lowlands. That's why we are recovering these lands that we could not exploit at the time of the state-owned company.
Our concession in Kienké represents 15000 ha, we have planted so far only 9200 ha, we hope to go up to 10000 soon, maybe more, who knows ?

OUM Janvier
Director Fields, agricultural manager of the Socapalm plantation of Kienke

The genetic block of the Socapalm unit in Kienké currently covers 54.17 hectares; here we have 70 different crosses, 70 hybrids

We study their behavior to select the best, according to the criteria, and we study their relationship with the types of fertilizer received. We wanted to test two new types of fertilizer that were not used before to improve the yield of selected palms.

There are ideal parameters for a palm tree for industrial production: a broad base, low growth so that bunches are easy to harvest, and good disease resistance.

Head of the genetic block and nursery of the Socapalm plantation of Kienke

We are never satisfied with the performance of our palm trees, we are never satisfied with our work, we must always strive for something better, and in terms of yields we have a margin of significant progress.

The old crops, which are plant material from the 80s, will be renewed and replaced by more efficient equipment, and it is hoped to reach tonnages of the order of 16 to 18 tons per hectare.

Jean-François PAJOT
Director of the Socapalm plantation Kienke