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Plantation de Haut Penja, Cameroon

Human and environmental rights violations in Njombe Penja by the company Plantation du Haut Penja. Banana exports at the cost of corruption, workers' exploitation and pollution. Good documentary film is banned.


The Njombe Penja in the Moungou Division, Littoral of Cameroon is home to a lot of fertile lands since the 16thcentury because of its fertile soils. Cameroon is the largest exporter of banana in Africa, with one of its highest producing region being Njombe Penja. However, even though they contribute a lot towards the country's economy, the people of this community have been facing a lot of collateral damage from companies that have been using their lands. The major company being held responsible is Plantation de Haut Penja (PHP), a multi-national French company from Marseille, which has been functioning in Cameroon for decades under the approval of the Cameroonian government. The local workers have complained about their salaries. In 2009, they were paid $52 a month when the minimum wage was $61. These workers have ended in debt for the upkeep of themselves and families because they have no medical insurance or other stipends that contribute towards their welfare. According to the workers, this is modern day slavery because their lands are exploited and it creates damage to their local economy. Their lands could be used for growing other crops so that they can sustain their families. However, all the economic benefit benefits go the higher authorities including the government and the company PHP.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Plantation de Haut Penja, Cameroon
State or province:Western Cameroon
Location of conflict:Njombé. Mungou Division
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Cameroon as a country produces 297,210 tons of banana annually about 170 billion CFA francs per year for an average production of 300 000 tons. PHP in Njombe Penja occupies about 3530 hectares for banana cultivation, and yields up to 120 000 tons a year. PHP employs over 6000 people, and accounts for 45% of Cameroon's total banana production. In the banana plantation, women earn less than men. Women are paid CFA 30,000, whereas mean are paid CFA 40,000. On the other hand, the expats earn up to 8 million CFA. These expats live luxurious lifestyles while local workers are heavily in debt trying to afford a normal lifestyle.

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Project area:3530
Type of populationRural
Affected Population: Njombe Penja
Start of the conflict:2008
Company names or state enterprises:PHP, Plantation du Haut Penja from Cameroon
Compagnie Fruitière from France
Relevant government actors:The local government of Cameroon
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NETWORK FOR THE FIGHT AGAINST HUNGER (RELUFA), FAKO Agricutural Workers Union (FAWU) Cameroon.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Potential: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition
Potential: Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Development of alternatives:NETWORK FOR THE FIGHT AGAINST HUNGER (RELUFA), FAKO Agricultural Workers Union (FAWU) Cameroon.
In 2003, RELUFA distributed loans to local farmers to buy land and start growing their groups. Also they helped the farmers to organize themselves into a cooperative and they named it the Common Initiative Group (CIG). With this group, the local farmers took PHP to court in 2005 for not paying 30 years of tax and not taking proper care of its workers.
PHP violated article 160 of the general tax code of Cameroon. According to this article, PHP is obliged to acquire a business license, with the proceed of the license fee going to the Penja Council. After 5 appearances in 3 years, PHP was fined 120 000 dollars. However, they paid only $28000 and are yet to pay the balance. FAWU is partnering with Banana Link to develop and deliver a program of educating and empowering local workers and their unions to improve their livelihoods.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:PHP has not paid its fine and is still continuing with its violation of human rights. The local people of Njombe Penja are still living in poor conditions while their community is producing nearly half of the country's bananas.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Brazilian Journal of African Studies v.1, n.2, Jul./Dec. 2016 | p.211-242. SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES IN THE CAMEROON BANANA SUPPLY CHAIN. By Kingsly Awang Ollong

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Cameroon Living Wage Report Summary
[click to view]

[2] Cameroon’s banana giant PHP’s revenues fall €10 million due to land issues. Feb 12th, 2018.
[click to view]

Mediapart. Cameroun: Les Plantations du Haut Penja (PHP) à l'origine de l'emprisonnement politique de Paul Eric Kingué?

[click to view]

Transparency International. The banana plantations: A source of corruption and human right violation in Njombe - Penja
[click to view]

[1] Liberation (Fanny Pigeaud), 18 mai 2009 (translated into English, Africa Files,Cameroon: Bitter taste to bananas . Summary & Comment: PHP, the leading banana producer in Cameroon, is multiplying environmental and social abuse thanks to alleged well-oiled political patronage in France and Cameroon, writes Pigeaud Fanny Njombe).
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Trailer to the film The Big Banana, by Franck BIELEU
[click to view]

Institute for Policy Studies, 2011, Playing Banana Monopoly: Agribusiness in Cameroon Threatens Independent Farmers.

The Big Banana details the injustice that is inflicted when profit of multinational companies is put before the interest of the people.

August 5, 2011 | Christopher Bartlo
[click to view]

Transparency Internationale Cameroon. Le fruit de la discorde.A study carrried out because of a complaint by M. Paul Eric Kingue, former mayor of Penja, due to alleged PHP's corruption.
[click to view]

VOA, on the forbidden film The Big Banana
[click to view]

Banned in Cameroon, The Big Banana illustrates the poor working conditions in banana plantations and exposes the adverse impact on the people of a corporatocracy government that affords super profits for corporations at the expense of the local population. The Big Banana outlines land grabbing tactics by company Plantation du Haut Penja (PHP) and the ensuing devastation for communities: poverty, pollution, and sickness from pesticides. Bieleu, who spent two years filming residents in the remote countryside of Cameroon also features local cooperatives resisting the devastation through business alliances with fair trade organizations. Franck BIELEU is a young Cameroonian filmmaker who focuses on documentaries that give a voice to people unable to reach out and tell their stories. He focuses on social subject that gnaw the community.
[click to view]

Other comments:Afrohistorama. La police camerounaise a interdit la projection mercredi 27 avril 2011 à la Fondation Muna à Yaoundé d'un documentaire "La banane", très critique sur les activités de la compagnie franco-américaine PHP spécialisée dans ce fruit au Cameroun. "La direction de la Fondation a été saisie par la police (qui souhaitait savoir) si on avait une autorisation. Nous ne l'avons pas parce que nous ne l'avons pas sollicitée", a expliqué un des organisateurs de la projection, Samuel NGUIFFO.
Un commissaire de police s'est rendu à la Fondation pour empêcher la diffusion du film. "Nous avions prévu une projection privée, ce que nous avons l'habitude de faire, et non une projection publique", a précisé M. NGUIFFO. "Le gouvernement nous empêche de nous exprimer", a affirmé Franck BIELEU, le réalisateur du documentaire "La Banane", qui parle de l'exploitation de la banane dans l'arrondissement de Penja (ouest). Selon la note d'information sur le documentaire, le film dénonce notamment l'expropriation des terres de petits exploitants qui sont "remises" à la société Plantations du Haut Penja (PHP), une compagnie franco-américaine spécialisée dans la banane. "Des personnes qui ont refusé de céder leurs terres ont été emprisonnées", affirme M. BIELEU pour qui la compagnie PHP "est extrêmement puissante" et compte "dans ses rangs des élites locales et des responsables politiques".
Meta information
Contributor:Haja Isatu Bah- [email protected] & JMA
Last update02/01/2019
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