Monday, July 7, 2014

[biofuelwatch] Wood laundering in Cameroon

Herakles farms accused of illegally exporting timber
by Mumh Rogers in Yaoundé

The conservation group Greenpeace has accused the American company, Herakles farms of colluding with the Cameroon minister of forestry and wildlife to illegally export timber to China. In a report published on May 27 2014, Greenpeace reveals that Herakles farms' Cameroon subsidiary SGSOC was using another company Uniprovince, as a front company to export its stockpile of timber collected illegally in the course its forest clearing exercise that ran between 2010 and 2013.

The report notes that in January this year Uniprovince obtained a 2.500 ha logging permit (vente de coupe No 11-02-10) inside the Herakles farms concession but observes that the vente de coupe permit was granted in violation of the Cameroon forestry legislation as well as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) that Cameroon signed with the EU, especially because it did not follow the procedure of a public auction as the law requires. Furthermore, the report suspected a deliberate attempt by the forestry minister to hide an illegal decision taken in favour of Herakles farms", as the vente de coupe did not figure in the most recent list of valid permits published by the ministry on March 10, 2014.

Greenpeace suspects therefore, that Herakles farms were in the process of laundering wood out of the country, through a cover up. It remarks further that the granting of an illegal permit to Uniprovince "calls to question Cameroon's commitment to respect the VPA and the credibility of the initiative as a whole" and notes that the illegal logging activities were happening at the expense of state treasury, apart from the local council and local communities that were supposed to receive forest royalties.
 "Because of the illegal granting of Uniprovince's logging permit without a public auction, the company will pay 17 times less tax than the average paid by other logging companies with similar permits in 2014. Yet, Heracles farms will exploit a greater volume of timber than other companies since it will raze the forest to make way for its plantation," notes the report, which has therefore called for the immediate seizure by Cameroonian authorities of the entire stockpile of timber in the Herakles farms concession and the cancellation of the "illegal logging permit". It further demands that an investigation be carried out into the "numerous illegalities" surrounding the project.

Authorities of the ministry of forestry have debunked some of the allegations by Greenpeace as ungrounded. "How did they expect the minister to know whether or not Uniprovince was owned by Herakles farms?" wondered Jean Robert Onana, communications chief at the MINFOF, who remarked that the same minister who was hailed yesterday by Greenpeace and other conservation groups for suspending Herakles farms operations because of irregularities and illegalities is now the target of attacks by the same groups.

Onana said that the vente de coupe permit granted Uniprovince was valid and it was obtained following regular procedure. He said the list of valid logging permits published on 10 March 2014 were those obtained before January 2014. "Subsequent lists would be published and Greenpeace will see that Uniprovince's permit is valid and legal," Onana affirmed.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says it has already seized the competent state prosecutor and provided him with proof of the resulting illegalities and the financial losses to the state.

It should be recalled that all of these started in 2009 when Herakles farms, fleeing tighter regulations in South East Asia, sought to obtain over 73.000 hectares of land to create oil palm plantations in Cameroon, notably in the Kupe-Muanenguba and Ndian divisions of the South West region. Suspicion of 'palms being oiled' came when Herakles farms was granted a land lease at 1 dollar/hectare a year, though company experts had valued it at 6.000 dollars per hectare.  At this rate, Cameroon was to lose at least FCFA 53.1bn a year to Heracles for the 20.000 hectare leased out by presidential decree.

"As part of the deal, Herakles farms were to surrender all the wood in its concession to the government. Apparently, the American company did not take this kindly and so looked for another way of taking possession of the wood".

The Greenpeace report has however, noted that Herakles farms' plantation activity has not gone beyond an overgrown nursery, while its lumbering activity was blossoming with the attendant threat it poses to the existence of locals and endangered species.


Stop the palm oil industry's assault on the South West region of Cameroon. The wind has blown and the anus of the fowl has been exposed!


The Voice of the Voiceless

The Farmers of the Manyemen Kingdom.

(Ndong, Betock, Ebanga Villages)

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In a few years time - "The inhabitants fled in panic into the far villages, crossing the palm oil plantation. Some of them are still missing. Since then, the entire plantation is surrounded by security folks, so the inhabitants cannot go back. No one can come out, no one can get in. No food - The devastation of existing farms and forest is here."


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