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Plantation de Haut Penja, Cameroon


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.

Also, regarding health and safety ofworkers, workers are not protected enough to apply chemicals: pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers and other agro-chemical to the land. Some workers have reported cases of eye problems due to the pesticides they have been handling. The company have not supported them with insurance or any medical support to help them improve their sight. According to Kingsly Ollong's research, he witnessed a nine month old pregnant woman using a plastic lid to apply fertilizers. This is a risk for her and her baby. He also witnessed a male worker mixing fertilizers without proper protective equipment. Many workers have to buy their protective gear from their salaries. Sadly, these workers are not even aware of the health risks they are facing.  The health of the whole community is at risk because the spray of chemicals can be harmful to plants, animals, and water bodies. Sadly, the parents of Njombe Penja are making their children drop out of school because they cannot afford school fees. They cannot quit their jobs also because they do not have another option. Their community is very impoverished with no electricity or proper schools and hospitals.

In 2009, Fanny Pigeaud reported in Liberation [1[ on the pitiable working conditions, and she added ( see also IN ENGLISH BELOW):  «La richesse produite par PHP, qui exporte toute sa production, ne bénéficie pas vraiment à Njombé», la petite localité de l’ouest du Cameroun où s’étendent ses bananeraies, souligne un ingénieur agronome. Le contraste est grand entre les vieilles et tristes baraques de bois, les routes de terre grise défoncées de la ville et les plantations bien entretenues de la société bananière. Les habitants de Njombé, dont les maisons jouxtent les bananeraies de PHP, se plaignent aussi de la pollution causée par les fongicides et pesticides que la compagnie utilise... «Notre rivière, notre unique source d’eau, est polluée», assurent les habitants d’un hameau proche de Njombé. La population n’échappe pas non plus aux produits que l’entreprise répand par voie aérienne sur ses plantations. Dans la zone, les maladies les plus fréquentes après le paludisme sont, selon un responsable hospitalier, «les maladies respiratoires et les dermatoses», deux problèmes souvent associés à l’utilisation de substances chimiques. Plusieurs témoins évoquent un nombre de cancers anormalement élevé. Impossible d’obtenir des éléments fiables sur cette question de la part de PHP. Son actuel médecin du travail est l’épouse du directeur des ressources humaines."

Fanny Pigeaud's report in Liberation of 2009, continues on the issues of Corruption, Pollution and Health as follows, blaming the European Unnion for silence: "Plusieurs sources affirment que le président Paul Biya, au pouvoir depuis 1982, est actionnaire de la compagnie, ce que dément son directeur général, Armel François. Des employés de PHP sont en tout cas souvent envoyés en mission dans les plantations d’ananas de Biya, inaugurées en 2000 en présence du président de la Compagnie fruitière, Robert Fabre. PHP est membre de l’Association de la banane camerounaise, un lobby dirigé par un autre député du parti au pouvoir, beau-frère du ministre du Commerce, Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana. Lequel n’est rien moins que le président du conseil d’administration de PHP. Ministre, c’est lui qui a négocié avec l’UE l’Accord de partenariat économique (APE) paraphé en janvier par le Cameroun. Jugé catastrophique pour l’économie camerounaise par les ONG comme le patronat, cet accord de libre-échange avantage en premier lieu les… producteurs de bananes du Cameroun.

Malgré cette incroyable cascade de conflits d’intérêts - à commencer par la signature camerounaise de cet APE -, l’UE reste silencieuse. Combien de temps le sera-t-elle devant un autre scandale potentiel, sanitaire celui-là ? Comme aux Antilles où il a pollué pour plusieurs siècles l’eau et les sols et pourrait être à l’origine de graves problèmes de santé, le chlordécone, un puissant insecticide, a été utilisé dans les plantations camerounaises[1]. Avec de probables répercussions sur les produits vivriers cultivés dans la zone et vendus jusqu’à Yaoundé, la capitale. Le ministère de la Recherche aurait lancé une étude sur cette question. Au moins un produit très toxique, non utilisé aux Antilles parce qu’il n’était pas homologué par la France, a été répandu à Njombé jusqu’à il y a peu, s’inquiète un connaisseur du dossier. «Une bombe à retardement» pour les entreprises bananières, estime un agronome."[1]


According to an agricultural engineer, the

wealth generated by PHP, which exports its entire production, does not benefit

Njombe, the small locality in Western Cameroun hosting the plantations. There

is a stark contrast between the bleak-looking wooden huts, the grey muddy and

dilapidated roads of the town and the well kept plantations of the banana

company. The inhabitants of Njombe whose buildings adjoin the plantations

complain also of pollution caused by fungicides and pesticides used by the

company, some of which have recently been banned by the EU because they pose a

health hazard.

"Our river, our only source of water,

is polluted" says the inhabitant of a hamlet located near Njombe. The

people are also not spared the effects of products sprayed by air on the

plantations. In the area, the most common diseases after malaria, according to

a health official, are respiratory diseases and skin disorders, two health

problems associated with the use of chemical substances. Many witnesses also

refer to the high number of cancers as proof of these. However, it is

impossible to obtain reliable facts on the issue from PHP. The company's

current doctor is the human resource director's wife.


All these facts do not prevent the EU from

subsidizing the banana sub sector in order to improve its competitiveness. For

ten years, PHP and two other companies with foreign capital share each year

five million Euros.

The Cameroonian authorities would not take

any offense: PHP has the political, administrative, and judicial leaders in its

pocket. "As a traditional chief, I am paid every month", confides a

local elite, the local administrator is also paid."

In February 2008, the new mayor of Njombe

was accused of participating in acts of vandalism against PHP, as part of a

national movement of political and social protest. He was sentenced to six

years imprisonment. At Njombe, many feel that he was actually punished for

accusing the company of not paying all its taxes. PHP "does what he

wants", its leaders are capable of anything, sums up a business man from

Njombe under cover of anonymity. A worried entrepreneur stressed that "It

is very risky to talk about the banana sector, a lot of personalities have an interest

in it."

PHP has an MP of the ruling party as one of

its executives and hires lands belonging to high ranking army officials.

Many sources confirm that President Paul

Biya, in power since 1982, is a shareholder, an allegation that has been refuted

by the company's General Manager, Armel Francois. In any case PHP's employees

are sent on assignment to Biya's pineapple plantation inaugurated in 2000 in

the presence of Chief Executive Officer of the fruit company, Robert Fabre. PHP

is a member of the Cameroonian Banana Association a lobby group led by another

MP of the ruling party and brother-in-law of the Minister of Trade, Luc

Magloire Marga Atangana and who is no less a person than the Chairman of PHP's

board of directors.

As a minister, he negotiated with the EU

the Economic Partnership· Agreement signed in January by Cameroon. Considered

as a catastrophe by both NGOs and employers association, this free trade

agreement favours first and foremost banana producers in Cameroon.


In spite of this unbelievable series of

conflict of interests - starting from the signing of the EPA by Cameroon, the

EU is tight-lipped. For how long will it remain silent in the face of another

potential health scandal? As was the case in the Caribbean where it has

polluted for centuries the water and soil and could be the source of serious

health problems, Chlordecone, a powerful insecticide has been used in

plantations in Cameroon with possible effects on food crops grown in the area

and sold as far as Yaounde, the capital. [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Plantation de Haut Penja, Cameroon
State or province:Western Cameroon
(municipality or city/town)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 :Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific commodities:Bananas
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.

The chemical Chlordécone has allegedly been employed.

In February 2018 it was reported that "Cameroon’s leading banana producer Plantations du Haut-Penja (PHP), the Cameroonian subsidiary of Compagnie Fruitière, has reported a turnover for 2017 of €110 million. This represents a fall of €10 million from 2016. PHP explains this fall is a result of land challenges facing the subsidiary which currently operates an area of 3,932 hectares. The company has asked the Finance Minister, Louis Paul Motaze, to intervene with the ministries of Land Affairs and of Territorial Administration. PHP claims that if this challenge is resolved, the company will increase its production by nearly 120 tons per year in the localities of Dihane and Bonguem to reach a production total of 230,000 tons by 2020. It will also create approximately 6,600 new jobs. In 2017, PHP exported 175,272 tons of bananas compared with 172,440 tons in 2016.["[2]

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 and 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

Impacts of the project

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 and 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

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


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

Transparency International. The banana plantations: A source of corruption and human right violation in Njombe - Penja

[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).

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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.

VOA, on the forbidden film The Big Banana

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

Trailer to the film The Big Banana, by Franck BIELEU

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.

Other documents

Source: Franck Bieleu's film

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



Source: Franck Bieleu's film