Industrial agriculture firms, thought of drivers of financial progress in Cameroon, are additionally a supply of misery for Cameroonian households following a rise in industrial accidents and the rising influence these complexes have on the surroundings.With rising accidents over time, the commercial agriculture sector alone accounted for 26.4% of work-related accidents recorded in Cameroon in 2020, in keeping with an estimate by the Cameroonian establishment overseeing social safety, the CNPS.According to estimates from the seasonal staff’ union, the Cameroon Sugar Corporation (SOSUCAM), which holds a monopoly on sugar manufacturing within the nation, is chargeable for a few hundred accidents per 12 months, some resulting in loss of life, on its plantations and in its factories.Local NGOs additionally accuse the corporate of polluting rivers and soil in addition to destroying village plantations. Above all, the corporate is infamous for its obvious violations in making use of Cameroonian labor, social safety, and environmental safety laws.
NKOTENG, Cameroon — At the Cameroon Sugar Corporation (Société Sucriere du Cameroun, SOSUCAM), the 12 months 2023 got here to a detailed on a grim notice: the loss of life of a person named Mballa Olomo.
The momentary employee misplaced his life because of burns suffered in a piece accident that occurred in December at one of many firm’s vegetation primarily based in Nkoteng, a Cameroonian city north of Yaoundé, the nation’s capital. The 43-year-old city native had been a seasonal employee on the industrial agriculture firm for about ten years. The firm is a subsidiary of the French group SOMDIAA, which manufactures and markets meals commodities and runs six sugar cane plantations throughout Africa.
The accident that value Olomo his life is one in every of many who have occurred at SOSUCAM. Accidents are numerous on the corporate’s plantations in Nkoteng and Mbandjock, the place the corporate grows sugar cane on almost 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of agricultural land. A latest report by the corporate’s seasonal staff’ union revealed that a few hundred work accidents occurred on the corporate’s plantations between November 2022 and June 2023.
Last April, a automobile transporting staff and shifting at excessive pace overturned on the Nkoteng plantation, injuring 35 individuals, two of whom had been significantly injured.
A seasonal employee (a cane cutter) on the SOSUCAM sugar cane plantation in Nkoteng. Image by Yannick Kenné.
In Cameroon, the federal government encourages the growth of business agriculture firms contemplating them to play a vital position in improvement. The authorities additionally believes that they’re an indispensable device in feeding the rising city inhabitants and that they promote the nation’s financial progress. However, because of violations of Cameroonian legislation, business staff are paid poorly and work in precarious situations.
With rising accidents over time, the commercial agriculture sector alone accounted for 26.4% of work-related accidents recorded in Cameroon in 2020, in keeping with an estimate by the Cameroonian establishment overseeing social safety, the CNPS.
These firms are additionally ceaselessly at odds with the native communities and small-scale farmers over land points, farmland degradation, soil and water air pollution, in addition to biodiversity loss.
These conflicts between the commercial agriculture plantations and neighboring communities are steady, whether or not or not it’s in Nkoteng or Mbandjock, the place SOSUCAM operates, or in Edéa or Dibombari, the place the Cameroonian palm oil producer SOCAPALM owns sweeping hectares of land planted with oil palms. The similar state of affairs will be seen within the city of Tibati, the place the corporate Tawfiq Agro Industry, which plans to develop pastoral farms, is situated, and in Campo, a city the place the corporate Cameroon Vert (CAMVERT) desires to deforest 1000’s of hectares of village land to plant oil palms within the Congo Basin.
Industrial farmland is steadily taking the place of land used for subsistence and rural farming within the nation. This is because of each modifications out there in addition to different elements resembling younger individuals shifting to cities, poverty and migration. Poor Cameroonians, who earlier than would have practiced subsistence farming on small plots of land, now discover themselves engaged on large-scale industrial farms — and with little protections.
Michel Bonga Tcherandi, a Tupuri man from northern Cameroon, misplaced a watch on SOSUCAM’s plantations. Image by Yannick Kenné.
Migrant staff and a brand new household cycle
Christine Maïsali, a sugar cane planter in her sixties, was one of many victims of final April’s truck accident. Eight months later, she nonetheless reveals indicators of post-traumatic stress, and he or she was taken off the seasonal workforce after eight years at SOSUCAM. She is now confined to her house sick and has not acquired compensation to ensure efficient care.
“Since the accident, my well being has declined,” she informed Mongabay. I recurrently have complications and ache in my chest and neck, and I fairly often have reminiscence loss points. In April, May and June, I didn’t obtain any of the compensation because of me. Yet I used to be on go away till July 12 … I haven’t gotten something since. My care isn’t lined anymore.”
According to the labor union’s report, solely 10% of labor accident victims at SOSUCAM would have acquired full protection in 2023, and “90% of the work accident victims we met with weren’t adequately compensated.”
According to their investigation, work accidents within the firm typically contain critical cuts from machetes or dabas, an device just like an axe; transportation accidents; sprains; items of sugar cane flying into their eyes; faints because of working within the warmth and so on.
One of the numerous labyrinths within the sugar cane plantations in Nkoteng. Image by Yannick Kenné.
Prior to her accident, Christine was her household’s most important revenue supplier following the retirement of her husband, Farwe Kossombele. He had additionally labored on sugar cane plantations within the area for twenty years, first for the defunct Cameroon Sugar Company (CAMSUCO), then for SOSUCAM. The former sugar cane cutter is of Tupuri ethnicity and is from the Far North Region, the poorest within the nation, the place about 74% of the inhabitants lives under the poverty line.
Seasonal staff on sugar cane plantations are primarily migrant staff from the northern a part of the nation. The majority are Tupuri, who’ve a fame for being energetic and accustomed to contracted labor, not like different native native staff, who as an alternative set their sights on administrative positions within the firm. Seasonal staff are stated to earn between 52,000 and 65,000 CFA francs ($86.74 and $108.42) a month. Their seasonal employment is taken into account low paid, though it stays barely above the assured minimal wage of 45,000 CFA francs ($74.97) now paid to agricultural staff.
The crop season lasts barely 5 months. For the rest of the 12 months, seasonal staff are compelled to follow blended farming (corn, potatoes, cassava, new cocoyam, plantains…) for subsistence and as a technique to scrape collectively further revenue for survival.
Community activist Adonis Febe, who’s from a corporation referred to as #OnEstEnsemble, which fights social injustice, denounces what he calls the perpetuation of transgenerational enslavement in SOSUCAM’s imported labor, which it inherited from the defunct CAMSUCO.
“In the previous, farm staff had been recruited by tender within the northern a part of the nation. The system is such that, since these northerners have already introduced their households [to Nkoteng and Mbandjock], it’s a generational cycle of repetition.”
Christine Maïsali, a sufferer of a piece accident on SOSUCAM’s plantations, along with her husband, Farwe Kossombele. Image by Yannick Kenné.
He added: “The father cuts [sugar cane], the kid comes to chop, the grandson will come to chop, and the employer pays them extraordinarily low wages. The technique is to forestall the mother or father from incomes a considerable sufficient revenue to pay for his or her youngsters’s training as a result of the corporate will want them in its workforce sooner or later.”
Seasonal staff, who symbolize about 80% of SOSUCAM’s personnel, work in situations sources deem precarious and disgraceful. They complain of a scarcity of medical protection, very low wages, inadequate private protecting gear and even, at occasions, a whole lack thereof.
In some instances, the alleged malfunctions in SOSUCAM’s human assets administration should do with violations of the legal guidelines governing work in Cameroon, say sources. These violations are more likely to improve the danger of labor accidents whereas the federal government has however prioritized danger prevention within the office.
According to Dr. Bruno Eyoum Doualla, Director of Occupational Health and Safety on the Cameroonian ministry overseeing labor and healthcare, the federal government plans to step up compliance checks round utilized well being and security measures within the office in accordance with the legislation. This will contain encouraging the creation of occupational well being companies in addition to coaching well being and security committees to raised deal with work accidents.
However, you will need to notice that the legal guidelines governing the office in Cameroon date again to a considerably distant time, and so they haven’t essentially tailored to modifications over time. The official says he’s conscious of the nullity of sure legal guidelines and that the federal government can be contemplating reforming the authorized framework within the work and healthcare subsector.
“A preliminary draft textual content itemizing significantly unsanitary or harmful jobs and professions is being finalized, and it’ll most likely be submitted to the nationwide committee overseeing occupational well being and security for overview and validation,” defined the top of the Ministry of Labor. “This listing, which covers each well being and security at work, formally identifies inherent dangers within the agro-industrial sector.”
The implementation and enforcement of those new requirements and legal guidelines stays to be seen. In the mining sector, authorities rules usually lack enforcement.
A stream polluted by wastewater from the SOSUCAM plant in Nkoteng. Image by Yannick Kenné.
Underlying environmental harm
In Nkoteng and Mbandjock, SOSUCAM usually comes beneath fireplace from environmental and group organizations for the social, societal and environmental impacts it has on the native populations and its violations in implementing its Corporate Social Responsibility coverage. These allegations additionally seem in a criticism filed by village and community-based organizations in 2021 with the National Point of Contact (NCP) on the French treasury.
On the environmental entrance, the group #OnEstEnsemble accuses SOSUCAM of destroying village plantations via aerial pesticide spraying, which spreads onto household farms; polluting the soil; destroying termite mounds and edible caterpillars; polluting ingesting water sources via spraying and polluting rivers from discharging plant wastewater.
The firm’s air pollution is kind of confirmed by an official at Nkoteng Town Hall, who spoke to Mongabay on situation of anonymity: “At the doorway of the city, there’s a stream that provides off a foul odor; on the Essomboutou sand quarry, bagasse [dried sugar cane pulp] discarded from the SOSUCAM plant leads to the Sanaga river, and blasters complain about creating pores and skin infections.”
The city corridor plans to confront the corporate this 12 months to seek out out what it discharges in nature. It may additionally require the corporate to bioremediate the polluted web site, which is an especially expensive operation. “We have an obligation to guard our ecosystems,” he added.
A spring within the village of Mendjui, which shrank because of air pollution from erosion. Image by Yannick Kenné.
Concerning land administration, in keeping with a legislation handed by parliament in 2019, city halls in Cameroon are the entities chargeable for environmental safety. In that respect, Nkoteng Town Hall may maintain SOSUCAM accountable for environmental normal violations on first offense and request motion from the Cameroonian ministry overseeing the surroundings within the occasion of a repeat offense.
Contacted following quite a few allegations made towards it, SOSUCAM didn’t reply to Mongabay’s request for remark. The firm’s radio silence is a roughly widespread response amongst industrial agriculture firms.
The environmentalist Stella Tchoukep, Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, says the impacts of this agriculture mannequin and the businesses working towards it lead a lack of biodiversity amongst vegetation and animals in areas used for his or her operations. The impacts embody soil, air and water air pollution, with little to no implementation or adaptation of potential pollution-reducing measures; local weather change and elevated group vulnerability and a rise in human-wildlife conflicts.
“Ultimately, native communities and Indigenous peoples are shedding their conventional land and assets, they’re not receiving advantages, and so they’re closely affected by the results of their rapid surroundings being destroyed,” the environmental advocate stated. “This isn’t improvement. Development places individuals originally and finish of any wealth creation initiative.”
Banner picture: Christine Maïsali, a sufferer of a piece accident on SOSUCAM’s plantations, along with her husband, Farwe Kossombele. Image by Yannick Kenné.
What can clear up rising conflicts between agricultural giants and communities in Cameroon?
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Agriculture, Conservation, Crime, Economy, Environment, Environmental Crime, environmental justice, Environmental Law, Governance, Indigenous Rights, Industrial Agriculture, Industry, Pollution, Poverty, Social Justice, Sugar
Africa, Cameroon, Central Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa