By Leocadia Bongben
Some 30 Cameroonian Artists have joined the sensitisation for the protection of elephants through a festival dubbed Elephantastik.
The maiden edition Elephantastik billed from November 29-30 at the Camtel Club in Yaounde is an initiative of an association, “Les Amie de la Culture”, (Friends of Culture) coordinated by Issoukou Eitel (Reezbo).
Presenting the festival to the press at the WWF office, Reezbo said the festival is organised within the framework of sensitising the public, government officials and policy makers on the importance of protecting elephants, endangered with extinction.
“Wounded and disoriented, elephants are exposed to suffering and even death. The future of baby elephants that lose their parents to poachers is uncertain as some die of thirst and hunger” he said.
WWF Country Director, Hanson Njiforti accompanied the artists at the presentation of the festival.
Among the many questions from journalists, was how such a festival could stop poaching and sale of ivory when those who perpetrate the ivory trade are found in Asia, China and other European countries.
Bas Huijbregts, WWF Head of Policy Engagement Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign for Central Africa said WWF has been campaigning at different levels dubbing the campaign by artists a new approach to the fight against illegal trafficking in wildlife with all stakeholders being part of the sensitisation process.
He said elephants are killed in Cameroon for the international illegal ivory market and the people that buy the ivory are not Cameroonians, they come from China, South East Asia and Europe and United States.
“Ivory belongs to elephants and not as a ring, a bracelet, you don’t give it as a present when you are in a high meeting with a government official and ivory is not sexy, ivory comes from poached elephants in Africa and they should stop buying them”, he stressed.
Artists are mobilising to stop the killing in Cameroon and also in Asia; there are good will ambassadors like the famous Chinese basketball player who is now talking to Chinese about poaching in Africa.
Thailand also has elephants and sell ivory from dead or domesticated elephants is legal, but with so many tourists, Thai ivory is not sufficient.
In this light, Huijbregts laments that the Thai government is lacking in law enforcement to control the ivory, the reason many criminals look for ivory from poached elephants from Africa which they mix with Thai ivory.
He said WWF has asked the Prime Minister to ban legal ivory trade in Thailand adding that in Cameroon there are a number of issues such as a lack of coordinated law enforcement to be addressed.
More often, law enforcement is considered as an issue to be dealt with by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, MINFOF, whereas, wildlife is now infiltrated by illegal criminal networks and should be considered as an illicit trade like in drugs, humans and arms, the policy campaign expert said.
Going by him, other law enforcements officers such as the police, customs and the justice department need to work hand in hand with MINFOF to address the trade.
“Millions of dollars are earned by this trade every year, Elephant tusks are moved from deep down the forest to Douala, Yaounde, these are not small things and there is control on the roads, how can they not see elephant tusks moving?, he questioned.
By Leocadia Bongben
President Biya has signed three decrees granting a temporary concession to the American Agro-Industrial Company, Herakles Farms SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon Limited despite protests by some villages.
Edward Enonguene Apkenjo, the regent chief of Nguti said two months ago the community does not have land to give SG SOC. “where are we going to get land for SG SOC, our population is more than the land.”
This is one of the many protests registered ahead of the signing of the presidential decrees.
Nguti is part of the land in the temporary land lease of 19,843 hectares which Biya on November 25, handed over to SGSOC that has been operating in illegality for four years.
The leased lands for a period of three years are in Nguti, Toko and Mundemba in the Southwest region of Cameroon.
In 2009, the government signed a contract with the company, for the development of a palm oil plantation and refinery for 73,086 hectares of land for 99 years at FCFA 500 per hectare per year.
However, this has changed as the company is expected to pay FCFA 3300 per hectare per year instead of FCFA 500, for three years and extension would depend on their ability to respect the engagements.
SG SOC is therefore expected to pay FCFA 259 billion to the state for the three years while and land tax of FCFA 198,430,000 million for the same period.
Civil Society Condemn Land Lease
Civil Society Organisations, Network for the Fight against Hunger, RELUFA and the Centre for Environment and Development, CED maintain that at a glance the irregularities decried over the years seem to have been corrected. But, they note that the decree legalises the activities which the company claimed were legal four years ago.
Napoleon Jaff Bamenjo, RELUFA Coordinator laments that, “The presidential decree has not succeeded in changing the project into an acceptable investment”.
They say questions continue to linger attracting suspicion as nothing is said about the communities that refused to cede their land and potential conflicts.
“For the past four years the company has not demonstrated the will to respect the law and the rights of the local communities.
Cameroon should avoid giving the impression that she is ready to welcome every company in a sensitive areas like land management. An urgent national policy on the lease of arable land with a rigorous selection of investors should be adopted so that the experience of SGSOC does not repeat itself”, says Samuel Nguiffo, CED Secretary General.
CED and RELUFA regret that the decree does not make mention of the wood from forest cut to plant palms hinting on the fear that this may jeopardise the Voluntary Partnership Accord, VPA between the government and the EU on the sale of legal wood.
International NGOs, Greenpeace and Oakland Institute have described the land lease signature as an alarming development.
“A downsized project does not resolve the problems related to the palm oil project by Herakles Farms,” said Irène Wabiwa, forest campaigner with Greenpeace Africa.
“It simply remains the wrong project in the wrong place, as the impact on communities’ livelihoods and the forests remain unacceptable”, she adds.
Going by her “The opaque and illegal manner in which the project has been carried out demonstrates the threats to Africa’s forests if operations like this are allowed to proceed unchecked.”
New Palm oil companies and investors are targeting Africa and if the Herakles project is not stopped, it would set a bad example for this type of large scale plantation development in the region.
Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute Executive Director regrets, “The Cameroonian government has shot itself in the foot with this decision. They are making it clear that under the guise of “investment” virtually anyone can get away with illegal activities in the country and even be rewarded for it. It will be the government itself and the Cameroonian people who lose out from this”.