ACTION ALERT - GABON
As many countries in Africa, Gabon is facing an alarming rate of expansion of oil palm and rubber plantations. The government has given the Singapore based company Olam 300,000 hectares of land to establish monoculture tree plantations.
Local communities have not been consulted about the process and have urged the government to respect their land rights. Communities sent a letter to the government in which they raised their concerns. Communities’ demands need international support!
Open letter to the Gabonese government authorities
To: The President of the Gabonese Republic
The Prime Minister of the Gabonese Republic
The Ministry of Water and Forests
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development
The Ministry of Defense
The Ministry of Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Sustainable Development
C.C.: OLAM, SIAT and other relevant interested parties
The undersigned organizations and individuals, of different nationalities but mainly from southern countries, hereby express our concern for the industrial plantations currently in expansion in countries and continents of the southern hemisphere that involve oil palm, hevea and other crops. In fact, the existence of such monocultures implies an overall destruction of forest ecosystems, with direct negative effects on the life of populations that basically depend on the forests for subsisting.
Industrial plantations of oil palm and hevea are rapidly expanding, most of all throughout Africa, as part of a plan for the produce to be exported to consumer markets in industrialized northern countries and the so-called emerging economies. This situation is the result of a production and consumption model, applied to several products like oil palm and rubber, which is not sustainable. At present, the growth of new markets based on “biofuels” obtained from oleaginous plants has boosted the demand of palm oil and rubber, with millions of hectares of land taken up for such purposes. In absolutely all cases, this situation implies numerous adverse consequences for the means of life of native populations, in addition to repeated violations to human rights, in all the Asian, Latin American and African countries where these crops are on the rise.
In the specific case of Gabon, two projects by the firm Olam constitute a serious reason for concern. One of them corresponds to the Gabonese company Olam Palm Gabon, a joint venture by the State and the Singaporean corporation Olam International, whose main activity is palm oil production. The other project consists of hevea plantations, also in cooperation with the Gabonese government. After being awarded a grant of approximately 300,000 hectares Olam announced that 100,000 of them would be used for hevea production in the estuary provinces of Woleu Ntem and Ngounié.
This announcement led to the organization of some communities in the province of Woleu-Ntem towards demonstrations intended to reject Olam’s project. In a letter addressed to governmental authorities, these people base their protest on the following argumentation:
- the fact that they have not been duly consulted regarding the project;
- the violation of the traditional land use and the customary rights of the region by the assignment of land to Olam, which causes yet further difficulties to those who fight for their rights trying to avoid the possibility of numerous families losing their lands, in addition to the fact that this loss tends to cause internal conflicts between community members;
- the plantations will affect the communities’ agricultural activities and will consequently pose a new threat to the present and future food sovereignty of these citizens and the country as a whole;
- the number jobs created will be less than the positions lost, in addition to the requirement imposed on farmers to become plantation workers;
- the plantations will lead to the destruction of forests on which the population is depending, apart from causing the sadly well-known effects of large-scale monocultures on the environment, such as polluted water reservoirs due to the use of pesticides, fertile areas lost, and a decrease in biological diversity, among others;
- the impact of the project has not been duly assessed in the environmental impact assessment studies carried out so far. Such studies have apparently ignored the serious economic, social, ecological and cultural consequences that industrial plantations have on the population.
The intention supporting this letter, in view of a new International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations on 21st September, is to urge you to contact the local populations that will be directly affected by the referred plantations in order to consider their opposition to the project under the circumstances in which it has been proposed.
We also request and urge you to hear all other urgent claims brought by these communities, included in their protest lettersregarding Olam’s plantations. Such claims mainly refer to the need for acknowledging and duly defining the territorial rights of these people so as to guarantee the life of present and futures generations. The communities also want to request your support in fulfilling a critical need: the enhancement of their agricultural activities and other related initiatives oriented at generating income.
We are confident that your will seriously consider these legitimate claims so as to avoid the experiences lived in other countries where projects of this type that were arbitrarily imposed ended up by destroying the ways of life and the future of local communities.