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11.05.2013 Letter

AN OPEN LETTER TO MR. BRUCE WROBEL: THE CEO OF HERAKLES FARMS.

By Edimo Andrew

Dear Mr. Wrobel,
It is so disheartening and insulting to any right-thinking Cameroonian, in particular, and African, more generally to learn that your company, Herakles Farms, is using rice and fish in the 21st century to bribe and seduce the indigenous people of Mundemba, Toko and Nguti sub-divisions in the Southwest Region of Cameroon in order to grab their ancestral lands for 99 years. Your so-called sustainable project will destroy the ecosystem of over 73,000 hectares of ancient rainforest and replace it with monoculture oil palm plantations. For this you'll pay some 50 cents per hectare annual leasing fees.

Florida and Hawaii both have tropical climates suitable for growing palm trees: why not move your palm plantation there since it an environmentally sustainable project? Even if the land lease in those states may be a hundred times higher than what you will pay in Cameroon, certainly the money you will save in transportation costs will make up the difference.

Reading the news release on your company's website as can be seen in this link, http://heraklesfarms.com/docs/INTLHFNewYearsPressRelease.pdf all I gather is that the people whose ancestral lands you are desperate to grab are irresponsible, useless, and hungry and cannot afford to feed themselves. So you provide them with food stuffs in their desperate situation so that they will give their land to you and your Cameroonian surrogates. This is nothing less than re-colonization and re-enslavement of Africa under the guise of 'investment,' carried out by multi-national corporations like yours.

Mr. Wrobel, Africans do not need handouts. Handouts have not worked in the past and will not work today. How long will the tens of thousands of people dislocated, dehumanized and enslaved by your so-called sustainable development project live off your 11 tons of rice and 10 tons of fish? Are they going to be eating the rice and fish for 99 years as they will have no land to farm after you have seized and destroyed their only treasure and hope for a livelihood?

It might have made some sense to a few people if you had instead empowered the people who you are trying to feed with rice and fish by educating and encouraging them to cultivate rice and start fish farming. After all rice is native to West Africa and Cameroon used to produce rice before this government came to power and helped kill the local cultivation and production of rice.

Reading through the website of Herakles Farms, I discovered that you are telling the world how you are helping to develop the continent of Africa by building hydroelectric power stations in Uganda, bringing internet cables to the continent of Africa, establishing palm plantations in Ghana and grabbing land in Cameroon. I learned, too, that your NGO, All For Africa, has a program, Palm oil Out of Poverty (POP). I think the acronym P.O.P. should stand for Palm oil On to Poverty because razing the forest for your proposed plantation and employing just 7000 - 8000 out of the 58,000 people who depend on that forest for their livelihoods, food, medicine and wood for fuel and building, will lead to increased poverty and early deaths.

You have forgotten to tell the world that you are the CEO of a venture capital company that invests in places where the overhead expenditures are low and your profit margin is high. A country like Uganda where large quantities of crude oil have been discovered and many companies are rushing in is certainly a profitable destination for you to generate and sell electricity to those who will be investing in crude oil as well as the locals, making millions of dollars annually and paying little or nothing to the indigenous people of the area.

As per your own projections, you will be investing about seven hundred million dollars in your Cameroon palm oil project and will make an annual profit of seventy million dollars. As such you will pay off the project in 10 years and for 89 years remaining; your children's generation and the generation after them will make seventy million dollars yearly, while generation after generation of the 58,000 indigenous people whose land you've grabbed will continue to live in abject poverty.

After reading your concession agreement, the convention your company signed with the government of the Republic of Cameroon, your rebuttal to the Oakland institute campaign and now your Questions and Answers with regards your Cameroon project, I discovered many contradictions and double-standards, which a business man of your magnitude should have avoided.

In your rebuttal, you insinuated that all timber which will be logged from the concession area will be handed to the government of Cameroon to manage: whereas page 3.4.2.2 of the EIA regarding Vegetation Clearing and Biomass Management stipulates, 'The Project Area will be prepared using a combination of manual labor, chainsaws, and mechanical preparation with bulldozers and similar equipment. Tree trunks, branches and leaves, and all biomass left after use on the Project Area and commercial timber removed, will be stacked in windows and recycled as organic compost. This practice is in line with RSPO's requirements to increase soil fertility, help control erosion, and help to prevent soil degradation'.

Meanwhile in the convention your company signed with the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, your company has been given the absolute rights to logging, water and clay and if any mineral is discovered in the concession area, be it oil, gold, diamond, and so on, the government of Cameroon will only be able to explore and exploit it with your approval. After all, that very government also gave you the right not to allow any indigenous person to trespass in the concession area as well as the right to arrest and persecute trespassers.

It is with great dismay that I read how you are trying to demean and undermine the work of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). You say it is too slow in doing its work; RSPO was holding up your 'important'project and you had to withdraw your application for the certification of Herakles Farms. Whereas in Ghana, you applied and obtained your certification through this same organization for your project in the Volta Region, and you even employed somebody charged with making sure your Ghana operation met the required standards of RSPO. Why the double standard now?

On the other hand your project in Ghana covers just 4,364 hectare of land, in the savannah, whereas your envisaged Cameroon project will cover over 73,000 hectares, most of which is virgin tropical rainforest with assorted species, some of which are only common to that concession area.

Considering that the indigenous people whose land you are desperate to grab filed hundreds of petitions, held multiple demonstrations against your project and sent letters to the government of Cameroon, the RSPO and environmental organizations worldwide, asking them to stop you from carrying out such a project in their ancestral lands, it is not surprising that the RSPO had to spend more time to review and evaluate your application for certification for your Cameroon project. RSPO prayed you to carry out proper consultation with the indigenous people on whose ancestral land you want to operate your palm plantations. Instead of heeding the advice of RSPO, you decided to ridicule them, withdrew your application and employed two traditional chiefs from the concession area as 'community facilitators,' who go around on your behalf and lobby, or better still, bribe other chiefs to go against the wishes of their people and support your project.

In your concession agreements in both Ghana and Cameroon, you indicated that, 'the plantations will follow the highest environmental and social standards, complying fully with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Principles & Criteria. RSPO is a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from the palm oil industry to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.' Yet you were the first to discredit RSPO because they listened to the cry of the indigenous people of the affected area in Cameroon and enjoined you to enter into real conversation with them.

It is incomprehensible that your proposed project covering a land area of over 73,000 hectare will provide employment for only 7,000 - 8,000 individuals, as indicated in your EIA, whereas the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) with just 41,000 hectares employs over 15,700 workers. If I do the mathematics, it seems that one employee at Herakles Farms will have to work on about 10 hectares of land, whereas an employee in CDC works on about 2.5 hectares.

It is interesting that in your question and answer page posted on the Herakles Farms website, you indicate that Nasako Besingi who runs SEFE has no right to educate indigenous people about their right to their ancestral land and the environmental calamity that your proposed project will bring because his organization is not within the concession area of your project.

For your information, non-governmental organizations are not restricted by Cameroonian or U.S. Laws to only operate within a particular jurisdiction. Furthermore, SEFE has its main office in Mundemba, the capital of Ndian division, where you are striving to acquire 30,600 hectares of tropical rainforest.

We know you and your company are above all laws in Cameroon, that is why an injunction order was issued by a court in Mundemba instructing your operations in Ndian division to stop until an agreement is reached with regards the future of the livelihood of the people whose land you want to acquire and you defiled the injunction. Instead you worked through your Cameroonian surrogates to make sure the judge who had passed the judgment was transferred. In America, not even the President can disrespect a court judgment, but in Cameroon an American company disrespects the laws of the land without any consequences.

You and your company are constantly deceiving and brainwashing the indigenous people of Mundemba, Toko and Nguti subdivisions with your gallant proposals of constructing roads, building schools, providing them with healthcare and improving their lives. Meanwhile you know you will only provide mud compacted roads that will not be for all seasons. Your schools, healthcare facilities, water and other amenities will only benefit your employees and their families, as it was clearly stated by the Project Manager of your company, Ms. Delilah Rothenberg, during an on-the-record teleconference which was organized by Cultural Survival on July 2, 2012.

You and your Cameroonian surrogates have taken it upon yourselves to pay most of the local newspapers in the Southwest region of Cameroon to publish positive 'reporting' about your project. Your company is cajoling the youths of the area of your proposed project by offering them few scholarships so that they support your project. But will these continue once you have what you want?

Maybe you should be reminded that your company Herakles Farms is not a charitable organization that selflessly goes on doing good things for communities for the good of humankind. You are a venture capital investment corporation that seeks optimum profit so that those who invested in your project will end up with high dividends, irrespective of the environmental and social disaster that may befall the natives of the area of your operations. Other agribusinesses have offered scholarship at the beginning of their projects but cut them off when they had their boots on the ground.

You stated in your question and answer press release that, 'Herakles Farms has regular meetings with the Prime Minister, various ministries, the U.S. Ambassador and other senior government officials who support the project and have not taken any actions against us in our more than three years of having an active business presence in Cameroon,' but all the U.S. diplomats we have contacted made it clear that the U.S. ambassadors do not advocate for, represent nor intervene on the behalf of American companies operating in foreign countries, let alone advocating for them to destroy the rain forest. Who is misleading who?

You are dealing with a new generation of Africans who always question what they hear or see and have no reason to believe that others know best. We are able to gather and share information on what your company says and does. We are not fooled by gifts of fish and rice. We are fully capable of deciding for ourselves what sort of development we want for our region.

Mr. Bruce Wrobel, I am a proud Cameroonian-American originally from the Southwest Region of Cameroon and it is my belief that we as Americans should have the courage to follow good business and ethical practices not only in our country but in any part of the world where we may find ourselves, so that the world may see the light and change for good. Herakles Farms is setting a bad example.

Andrew M. Edimo.
Environmental and Human Right Activist, Lansing MI
Chairperson Natural Resources And Development Committee Oroko Cultural Association

( OCA) - USA.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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