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Local Community Organizations in Cameroon keep Agro-company Accountable for the Environment

In Cameroon and around the world, indigenous peoples and local communities play a vital role in conservation and land protection. Consisting of nearly 14% of the population and many being farmers, pastoralists and herders, indigenous peoples’ knowledge of the interlinked relationships within nature is longstanding and passed down from generation to generation. Yet, communities must contend with the adverse fallouts of corporate take-over. The agroindustry in Cameroon poses similar challenges. Many agricultural companies and their supply chains play a significant role in tackling food insecurity, but this cannot be successful without the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

APED (Support for Environmental Protection and Development/Appui pour la Protection de l’Environnement et le Développement) is a community-driven organization based in Kribi, Cameroon, which participated in BES-Net’s Virtual Trialogue. Their team successfully transformed a conflict between a large company and 13 local communities including the Bantu and Baygeli communities throughout the country, resulting in improved relationships. Mrs. Ornela Medom, Facilitator of APED explains, “Our organization had been approached by communities complaining that some companies were not respecting environmental and social regulations, so we began collecting data and meeting with these different communities. We realized that we needed to talk about the inclusion of the opinion of IPLCs in agroindustry activities”.

HEVECAM is a private Cameroonian company formerly run by the Government. They have corporate social responsibility policies such as the Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which recognizes the need to engage local communities impacted by their work. Subject to the French “duty to vigilance” law requiring companies across their supply chain operations to develop and implement a plan which addresses both human rights and environmental risks, APED understood they could play an important role in this dispute. “It was an opening to act for IPLCs”, explains Mrs. Medom.

APED formed a partnership with an American NGO and began documenting all violations against IPLCs. They gathered scientific research on local socio-economic and environmental impacts as a result of agroindustry’s work and sought more evidence of activities completed without community dialogues. Greenpeace also published on these issues. Meanwhile, the 13 communities came together to express their specific concerns about the potential contamination of their waterways as a result of HEVECAM’s work. APED reached out to colleagues in France who then presented these materials to HEVECAM.

HEVECAM and APED members conduct soil and water analyses in 13 Indigenous communities in partnership with Pasteur Institute. Credit: APED

The organization’s strategic collaborations worked. HEVECAM responded by offering to conduct soil and water analyses to identify any contaminants present with collaboration of both APED and the Pasteur Institute in Yaoundé. They also made a zero-deforestation commitment. “We tried to find an agreement with them, and they agreed to allow these communities access to more fodder and improved health care. They also will create jobs within the company for local community members. Finally, they have provided 25,000 hectares for a community garden”.

Ensuring accountability of businesses is critical to preserving and sustaining ecosystems. Often, organizations need mutual support to be able to take on larger businesses and hold power to account. BES-Net’s Trialogues serve as a platform where other organizations can witness and learn first-hand from the experiences of leaders like Mrs. Medom and APED, who lead the way for practitioners and policy experts to come together to find a common solution for the planet.

Credits:

1. Photo by Mleveill on Pixabay 2. By Angeline A. van Achterberg - A. A. van Achterberg Collection, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83361208 3. Eric Freyssinge, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 4. Photo courtesy of APED 5. Asitchoma, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 6. Shalo Jeannette Darline, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons