KRIBI, Cameroon (PAMACC News) - Michael Wakam stood beside a palm tree in a bushy area in Kribi in the South region of Cameroon and looked dejectedly at the farm land in front of him that was once his.
“It starts from here right over there where you see that palm tree. From there, you move to the right extending to the middle of that building right up to where were are standing” he said showing a vast piece of land which he claimed was grabbed from him by a Chinese company commercial cultivation of rice and cassava.
“We agreed that the land will end right there in the middle of that tree but I came and discovered that they have extended to this level. They have encroached my land almost by one hectare. This is wrong and illegal” he said boiling with anger.
Michael’s story is familiar across Cameroon where locals continue to dispute land with International companies especially Chinese companies.
In September 2015, neighbouring communities of the Lokoundjé and Kribi II subdivisions living close to the farms of Hévéa du Cameroun (Hévécam), a sister company of Chinese group Sinochem International addressed a memorandum to the Cameroonian government in which they accused the company of the of grabbing farming lands, stepping beyond the limits of some of its land concessions. A situation which, according to them, deprived them of a livelihood generally provided by agricultural activities on the lands under dispute.
“Government remained mute to our complaints and the land grabbing continued. This is 2017, two years after the memorandum and nothing has changed” said Michae. “We suspect that they bribed government officials to stay quiet” he added.
Company officials denied the allegations and stressed that the land was acquired from the indigenes in strict respect of the Cameroonian law.
“What always happens is that, villagers usually get excited and confused when this companies come with huge sums of money to buy and develop their land. They only realized that they did not bargain well when the companies start operating” said Nelson Ndi, a Cameroonian working with Camco, a Chinese company that deals in agricultural and construction machinery.
According to two studies carried out separately by Land Matrix, the global watchdog on large scale land acquisitions, and Deborah Brautigam, Director of China Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University in the USA, Cameroon is one of the top 10 African countries that have sold the most lands to Chinese agricultural investments.
With 10,120 hectares of lands sold to the Chinese company Shaanxi Land Reclamation General Corporation (operating under the name IKO), to farm maize and rice in the Center region of the country (Nanga Ebola and Ndjoré), Cameroon, Ethiopia and Mozambique have some of the most important Chinese investments in agriculture on the Continent. Cameroon however comes far behind Zimbabwe that sold 100,000 hectares to the Chinese company CWE to farm maize.
“We are thinking of organizing a solid resistance to these land grabbers and demonstrate our resolve to keep our lands. We do not care what happens” said Michael. A move that will certainly end up in violence and probably loss of lives.
The Cameroon Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mining and Arts (CCIMA) has proposed a more sustainable measure to settle the crisis which will possibly not please strong opponents of land grabbing by agro-industrial companies.
The President of the Chamber Christophe Eken, has exhorted the government to carry out a “land reform, to facilitate access to land ownership for investors, especially in the agro-industrial sector”. For businessmen, this reform is to be considered as a “priority”, if the government wants to “increase the competitiveness of the Cameroonian economy”.
Government is yet to react. The request comes in a context marked by civil society organisations blowing the whistle on the land grabbing operated by agro-industrial units, a practice which according to these NGOs, challenges the survival of neighboring communities.