The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The anatomy of an oil palm plantation and why African primate diversity is in trouble


1Sociology and Anthropology, James Madison University, 2SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund, 3Pro Wildlife, 4WildCRU, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

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Palm oil, the most widely produced vegetable oil, is derived from the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Oil palm plantations are developed in areas occupied by tropical forests, the most biodiverse of the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems and home to the majority of primate species. Due to the growing global demand for palm oil, agribusiness companies are increasingly seeking land leases in the African tropical forest zone. Little is known about the activities of these companies. The American-based Herakles Farms is planning a 70,000 hectare oil palm plantation in the heart of one of the most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems in Africa – the Cross-Sanaga forests along the Nigeria-Cameroon border. These ancestral forests are home to some of the world’s most threatened primate species, including the drill and Preuss’s red colobus. We examine the Herakles Farms plantation plans in Cameroon to understand how such companies operate and to illustrate the challenges involved in preventing or influencing such developments. We consider evidence suggesting that Herakles Farms may have violated principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (of which they are a member) and Cameroon law, ignored the protests of local opposition, and produced an inadequate environmental and social impact assessment. The proposed plantation will destroy primate habitat and could push to the brink of extinction already threatened primate populations in adjacent protected areas. This study will help conservation and development organizations better prepare for the influx of foreign agribusiness companies wishing to lease vast areas of tropical Africa over the coming decades.

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