Communities welcome RSPO process in Cameroon
RSPO is a not-for-profit multi-stakeholder platform certification scheme created in 2004 by a collective of industry representatives, financial institutions and civil society organizations. RSPO promotes oil palm production that comprises legal, economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial management and operations. The new RSPO standard adopted in November 2018 focuses on three impact goals: Prosperity, Planet and Population.
SOCAPALM and SAFACAM, both subsidiaries of SOCFIN Group, though not yet members, have nevertheless engaged the process that will result in RSPO certification by 2020 for SAFACAM and 2021 for SOCAPALM.
WWF Cameroon with the technical support of WWF Gabon and RSPO General Secretariat represented by its Assistant Technical Manager for Africa, Victor Tamanjong, held meetings in the plantations of SOCAPALM and SAFACAM. The meetings were aimed at raising awareness of local communities and smallholder farmers on the benefits (economic, environment and social) of the RSPO certification scheme and seek full support for the processes.
Local people said the coming of RSPO heralds a new dawn for the hostile relationship between the communities surrounding the plantations and the agro-industrial companies. “Before coming to this meeting, we were very skeptical of its outcome because things have not gone well between us and SOCAPALM over the years,” says Etamane Etamane, representing the Chief of Apouh A Ngog village, in the Littoral Region of Cameroon. “I am happy with the coming of RSPO and if it were a law, I would have advocated that it be implemented immediately because you have presented the truth just as if you were in our minds,” he says.
SOCAPALM and SAFACAM are the first companies in Cameroon to commit to the RSPO certification standards. Both companies produce 70% (118 840 tons) of palm oil consumed in Cameroon. According to Jean Francois Pajot, Director General of SAFACAM, they have engaged in the RSPO process in a bid to establish a platform for communications and exchange, which will instill transparency and restore trust between the company and local people. “I have the impression that the communities have understood and are ready to embark on this journey with us,” Pajot says.
According to Ludovic Miaro, Regional Palm Oil Coordinator for WWF Africa, one of the biggest challenges and sources of conflict SOCAPALM and SAFACAM face is related to land tenure. “Engaging the RSPO certification process marks a new beginning that will provide sustainable solutions to these conflicts,” he says.
The snag is that besides the companies, local people must understand and buy into RSPO principles for the effort to succeed. In this light WWF is liaising with local Civil Society Organizations: EGI, APED and Cameroon Ecologie, to effectively reach and sensitize the local populations. “We need to build the capacity of local communities to enable them embrace the process, negotiate and defend their interests,” says Flore Ngo Nken of Cameroon Ecologie.