Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How Cameroon is the first banana production country in Africa, "but provides nothing for the labourers"

Fifth in the world, first in Africa - the hard figures for the banana production in Cameroon sound good. For Jean-Baptiste Zipa, however, these positive figures are deceptive: "This is a colonial form of economy which continues the old hierarchy and forms of humilation," says the former chief editor of the Cameroon newspaper Le Messager. Zipa has been involved in the banana production in Cameroon since his time as a student. What bothers him in particular: "Our national elites are profiting from this system and are being bought by the companies from the banana branch."
According to Fresh Plaza, the companies are mostly foreign and have subsidiaries in Cameroon. The market leader is La Compagnie Frutière from Marseille, which operates under the name Plantations du haut Penja (PHP) in Cameroon. The second largest player is the Cameroon Development Cooperation (CDC) which has been a subsidiary of the American company Del Monte since the 90's.

The trade is going well. In 2015 Cameroon even overtook Ivory Coast as the largest banana producer in the Afro-Caribbean-Pacific, according to current figures, with a record harvest of 278,450 tonnes. However this benefits the country itself little. The subsidiaries declare their places of production in Cameroon as 'cooperative agricole', or agricultural cooperation. These organisations fall under aid development and is therefore free of taxes in Cameroon. "A company that makes multiple millions of turnover per year, isn't aid development!" Jean-Baptiste says with annoyance.

But it is not only the evasion of taxes by companies that gives banana production its bad name. International human rights organisations and the Cameroon civil society mainly criticise the conditions of labour on the plantations: the labours suffer under 14 hour shifts and a monthly wage of less than 35 Euro. This as well as a completely insufficient employment protection and miserable living conditions. According to research by the French TV channel, France Info, in 2013 the companies also used pesticides that had been banned in Europe for years. These substances are not only dangerous to workers, but to people in the surrounding villages. The government isn't acting against this and for a good reason: "Government delegates are in the PHP committee at the same time. They guarantee the company that their profit interests will be focused upon and can for instance suppress strikes," says Jean-Baptiste.

Organisations such as the British NGO, BananaLink, are standing up to the abuses within the Cameroon banana production. They support local Cameroon trade unions and try to inform consumers in Europe of the miserable conditions in fruit production in many southern countries through international campaigns. According to Jean-Baptiste the banana production needs to be reorganised and not boycotted: "The banana production is one of the main employers in the agricultural sector with 46,000 jobs. What needs to change are the working conditions, the evasion of tax and the corrupt double roles of local politician. The population should not hardly be profiting from one of their largest branches of export."

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