Monday, June 10, 2013

The land grabs go on

 Herakles Farms (HF), is a subsidiary of the venture investment firm Herakles Capital which uses on its website such  phrases as "sustainable", "poverty reduction" and "environmentally benign". Its CEO,  Bruce Wrobel, declares: "Throughout my entire life I have considered myself to be an environmentalist and an activist for the poor."

Yet the company is constructing what it claims will be among "the largest palm-oil plantations in all of Africa" - an area roughly 12 times the size of Manhattan - in a fragile biodiverse region in Cameroon. Last year, after complaints about Herakles to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) highlighted the company's alleged environmental violations, Wrobel made no attempts to set the record straight. Instead, Herakles resigned from the Roundtable before the claims were to be investigated, spuriously stating that they "remain committed" to RSPO's standards.

 In communications with investors, Herakles assures that it has "secured a 99-year lease... and also received all required permits and approvals to commence field operations". But in an internal communication, a senior Herakles official states unequivocally: "We do not have the required government approvals for field planting." Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has on numerous occasions - the most recent, just last month - formally warned the company to stop felling trees until it receives the necessary approvals. Among these missing approvals is a signed presidential decree required to validate the leases of all land concessions of more than 50 hectares on public lands in Cameroon. Yet despite its many reproaches, Herakles proceeds with impunity.

The company  dangled the promise of hospitals, jobs, food security and "tremendous long-term benefits", and managed to gain pockets of consent in the area, to which it now clings as proof of its right to operate. Their dreams of local people stronger infrastructure began to evaporate at the moment when, instead of hospitals and jobs, the only new features to materialise in the area were  perimeters and warning signs, flaunting the fact that their land rights had been forfeited.

 Herakles Farms have exploited images of poverty and hunger, and couched their efforts in the language of sustainability, allowing them to handily reap profits from Africa's resources while undermining national laws, local communities and the environment.

From here

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