As in many countries, land in Cameroon is at the heart of major development issues. This leads the government to make large land concessions to large foreign and local investors. These concessions are often made at the expense of the population.
Particular context of PAC (Plants and Aquaculture of Cameroun)
In May 2014, farmers from 26 villages in the Ntem Valley, Southern Cameroon region were abruptly barred from their fields. By an administrative act, their land was incorporated into the private domain of the State and ceded to two companies; the first, Neo-Industry benefits from 26,000 ha and the second, “Plants and Aquaculture of Cameroon” (PAC) from 31,000 ha.
The recommended distance of five kilometers between the project site and the habitats of the populations (vital space) was not respected during the delimitation of the site, which led to vast destruction of agricultural spaces (peanuts, corn, plantain) belonging to the local residents.
The victims have not received any compensation. Out of more than 66,430 ha entrusted to PAC and Neo-Industry, only three people have been identified for an amount of 17,535,000 CFA francs. Irritated, the populations have taken action with the local administrative authority, which has rather intimidated them.
Involvement of Faith and Justice alongside the local residents
Alerted by a nun from the Congregation of “Notre Dame de Montréal”, an observer, the Cameroon cantenna got involved in defending the rights of the victims to make their voices heard. Since 2014, the antenna has been committed to supporting them.
The accompaniment of the victims consisted of sensitization actions (non-violent conflict management to deal with rising tensions among local residents) and mobilization of the victims so that they can defend their rights legally. Hence, the legal set up in Ambam of the Human Rights and Environment Network “RDDE” followed by visits and training meetings for members. Through the means of communication available to us such as the SHEMA (quarterly newsletter produced by the Chapter), the website and social networks, the antenna regularly alerted the public, religious men and women during the General Assembly of Major Superiors on the issue of land grabbing in the light of this specific case of PAC.
On June 20, 2019, in a joint letter signed by Faith and Justice, the traditional chiefs of the villages of Meyo-Centre I&II, Nfenadoum, Nkan, Akina, Akak, Nsessoum, once again denounced the occupation of 30,708 ha by the PAC project without a prior environmental impact study and without holding a consultative meeting with their respective populations. “This way of doing things, they say, has infuriated the populations who have found themselves in a state of indescribable anger. They affirmed at the same time their categorical refusal to see the project installed in their locality.
In 2020, the antenna undertook an action within the framework of the Landcam project to safeguard the land rights of the people living in the vicinity of PAC. This was particularly the right to living space, information, compensation and a healthy environment. The initiative specifically aimed to enlighten national and international community on the situation of land problems encountered by the populations due to PAC’s activities, to support local leaders for the defense of the rights of the residents, to improve consultation between the various local actors, i.e., the residents and the project promoters, and to encourage and support initiatives to secure the living space of the Riparian populations. Among the activities to be carried out, the training of community leaders, including traditional chiefs and notables, on land and property issues, advocacy, and the conduct of a study on the status of sites impacted by PAC project activities. The field survey was carried out between April and June 2020, and a feedback workshop held on October 29 comments to validate the findings before the public presentation, which took place on March 24, 2021 in the presence of the media, CSOs, and representatives of some decentralized government services. The investigation report reveals formal flaws in the process of allocating land to PAC, the poor involvement of the populations in the process of expropriation for public utility on the land they occupy, the absence of environmental and social impact study, the destruction of crops, the lack of consequent compensation, the violation of living space, etc. It also emerged that the beneficiary company has made a partial demarcation in place of the competent services of the Ministry of Lands, Land registry and Land Affairs.
The document highlights the troubled role of certain State agents who, with great disregard for their missions and obligations, supported the particular interests of PAC to the detriment of the common good. The report ends with a series of 15 recommendations, the first of which, addressed to the State, asks it to “proceed with the immediate withdrawal of land title No. 579/Ntem Valley for formal defects”.
Impact of the project
On May 5, 2021, the Prime Minister signed an order cancelling the State of Cameroon’s title to the disputed land. With this act, he also cancelled the titles of the PAC and Neo-Industry companies. A real victory is for the populations who did not back down during this fight. Accompanied and supported by some civil society organizations (Faith and Justice was not alone in this fight), AEFJN supported this fight. Our gratitude to the Swiss antenna and to Father CHIKA who, during his visit to Cameroon in March 2019, went to the locality to comfort the victims. Other civil society actors have also taken on Neo-Industry.
Certainly, this is a big step. But much remains to be done. As a civil society, we must ensure that the Prime Minister’s decision is effective. That this decision is taken into account by the services of the land registry, the domain and land affairs so that the farmers who wish to do so can have access to title deeds on the plots of land that they exploit. It is also a question of supporting the development of the lands concerned by the populations in the perspective of a sustainable local development by ecological agricultural activities aiming at ensuring food sovereignty.