Cameroon has an abundant supply of raw materials such as palm oil and rubber. It is a country where the agro-industry occupies a prominent place in the industrial sector.
For centuries, palm oil – also known as red oil – has been an integral part of the people’s diet in Central Africa, particularly in Cameroon, where it is highly appreciated for its flavor and low cost.
In Cameroon, urbanization and population growth have led to an increase in palm oil demand and hence a more intensive oil palm cultivation. Smallholder plantations have multiplied.
After its independence, the government launched an investment program for the large industrial plantations to address the palm oil shortage on the local market. Nonetheless, Cameroon is presently still obliged to import 50% of its domestic vegetable oil needs.
Since 2012, the country’s agro-industry, supported by the central government and the WWF, has collaborated to implement the 8 Principles and 39 Criteria of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). The aim of this organization is to reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity and respect the rural communities’ livelihoods.
In future, natural rubber production could constitute a real cash crop for Cameroon’s villagers.
This raw material offers two undeniable advantages to its producers:
It provides a permanent income throughout the year;
It does not degrade (an important factor when transport or sales opportunities are not immediately available).
As an important catalyst for development in remote areas, rubber cultivation also enables the production of pure green energy: natural rubber is a substitute for synthetic rubber (a petroleum distillation product) and serves as a significant carbon sink.
Rubber production, primarily for export, is a significant source of foreign currency for Cameroon.
The Bagyeli Pygmies
In Cameroon, about 6 000 Bagyeli and Bakola pygmies live on a territory of almost 12 000 km2 in the country’s southern part.
The Bagyeli culture is primarily based on its relation to the forest. They hunt and fish there, build their houses from wood, pick fruit and leaves and harvest honey. Moreover, for the pygmies « the forest is the place where the nature spirits live who watch over them, protect them, or on the contrary, punish them ». Through their forest practices, the pygmies are known for their biodiversity conservation: they only take what they need without destroying the fauna and flora, allowing nature to recover. Unfortunately, their lifestyle of biodiversity conservation is not to their advantage as the laws do not recognize their way of land exploitation (no permanent constructions, no plantations etc.).
The majority of the pygmies still live in villages in the middle of the forest often situated more than 10 km from each other. In the past, these sites were only places of passage for this nomadic people; nowadays, they are living places where the pygmies semi-settle.
Nevertheless, as they are still hunting over large areas, they are often away from their homes for several days or weeks.
A pygmy community, consisting of 5 villages, lies within the proximity of the Kienké plantation: Kilombo, at 15 km of Kribi, has about 70 residents; Naminkoumbé, a touristic Bagyeli village situated at 10 km of Kribi, has about 100 inhabitants; about 20 persons live at Mvoumgangom, as well as about 100 residents at Lendi and about 25 persons at Boumapenda; they are neighbouring residents of both HEVECAM and SOCAPALM.
The Kienké plantation tries to play a role in the integration of the pygmies, offering them access to the health services and improving access to education for the youngest: allocation of educational material, school uniforms, tables-benches, renovation of classrooms, etc. paying the teachers’ salaries and since a while the employment of the Kilombo leader at the Kienké plantation.
Access to education will help them implement forest conservation practices and acquire the required knowledge to protect themselves against infectious diseases coming from the outside world and that the forest cannot heal.
A sharing and dialogue platform was established with the Kilombo pygmies thanks to the facilitation of the NGO BACUDA (Bagyelis Cultural Development Association), represented by its chairperson Biloa Jeanne. This results in Socapalm’s commitment of assistance to their benefit (solar energy, water, etc.). Furthermore, still with the support of the NGO BACUDA, the development of a food-producing plot is planned.