Amid International Opposition to Proposed Palm Oil Plantation in Cameroon, Agribusiness Abandons Struggle for “Sustainable” Certification
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 07:52
Herakles Plantage

U.S.-based Herakles Farms’ Resigned full Membership from Palm Oil Body

Yaoundé, Cameroon / Wülfrath, Germany - Herakles Farms, a subsidiary of New York investment firm Herakles Capital, withdrew its membership from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on August 24, 2012. RSPO membership enables agriculture business to label their palm oil farming practices as environmentally responsible.

Indigenous Cameroonian groups along with international social justice and conservation organizations have dogged the proposed palm oil plantation, since Herakles stuck its first stakes in the ground two years ago. The opposition coalition takes Herakles’ move as an admission that sustainability was never part of the plan.

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Herakles had promised to bring jobs and wealth to communities in the plantation’s path and to protect a small fragment of fragile rainforest while clear-cutting a vast swath of ancient trees in the Republic of Cameroon’s western region. Yet, Herakles continues destroying rainforest despite a 2011 Cameroon court injunction meant to halt the 60,000-hectare (nearly 150,000-acre) project.

From the get-go SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund, a German-based conservation organization, has helped lead the charge against the palm oil plantation and promoted the interests of local communities. SAVE’s Director, Lars Gorschlüter stated, “Herekles’ latest move to preemptively rebuff RSPO membership and its continued failure to abide by country law just show that this corporate conglomerate is acting in bad faith.”

Opposition groups claim the plantation would be a social and ecological catastrophe for the people and wildlife of the region. Communities have long depended on resources, such as food and clean water provided by the rainforest and its aquatic systems. Most locals do not want to risk their traditional livelihoods for an unproven, foreign development scheme that they believe will only line corporate pockets. SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund helped circulate a petition among affected communities and found 78% of this population is against the palm oil plantation.

The plantation is located near Korup National Park. The region is one of the last true biodiversity hotspots in the world. The rainforest designated for destruction provides habitat for chimpanzees and endangered forest elephants along with countless rare species known only to this area.

Gorschlüter from SAVE sees two sides of Herekles pulling its membership application from the RSPO. He stated, “I think this could be a good sign – an indication that Herakles feels the international and local opposition pressure and may be ready to back away from its ill-conceived project. On the other hand,” Gorschlüter continued, “I fear that if this is a win it may only be a Phyric victory for residents in the plantation area. Given its considerable investment in the project, Herekles may be ready to accelerate permanently destroying the forest and people’s livelihoods as opposition grows.”