World Rainforest Movement

Equatorial Guinea: possible expansion of oil palm plantations

The oil palm is native to this and other countries of the region, where its sap is collected to make palm wine, its dates used in cooking oil produced in cottage industries. The product was traditionally exported before the establishment of plantations, that by 1968 covered some 7,000 hectares.  The seedlings planted originated from more productive varieties developed in Asia. Although those plantations were abandoned, they continue to produce some bunches, similar to those of the native palms, for family consumption. At all events the harvest is hard to gather as the palm trees are spread out. Although there are some small oil and soap factories, palm tree production is only used for family consumption, as the oil obtained by family artisans is of scant market value due to its irregular quality. (1)

Historically, Colonial agricultural production was geared towards exports. It is important to note that Equatorial Guinea is geographically divided into two areas: a continental area (Río Muni) and an insular area (Bioko and various other islands). Agricultural development was centred in Bioko, where the climate and soil were well suited to coffee and cocoa plantations.(2) The production of Colonial goods did not start until the beginning of the twentieth century with the production of coffee and cocoa predominating although exploitation and plantation of oil palm trees later became more important. (3) In general terms, “during Colonial times, until its independence, [export] agriculture in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea was of a monoculture nature, based on coffee, cocoa and oil palm plantations”.(4)

It should be noted that the country has a long and grim history as regards plantations. During Spanish Colonial times, the export economy was based on the establishment of large coffee and cocoa plantations as well as oil palm plantations. Work on the plantations was generally done in a poorly concealed form of slavery called “prestaciones” (a form of compulsory communal service), where people were obliged to work for no remuneration whatsoever. At the same time, those guilty of minor crimes were condemned to “collaborate” for a time in this “collective work” accompanied by a policy of terror based on the physical extermination of anyone who refused to provide their service. (5)

Generally speaking, with regards to the various types of traditional plantations (coffee, cocoa, banana, coconut, oil palm, etc.), production is presently undergoing difficulties due to the “deteriorated state of the plantations and the lack of labour.” Regarding the latter, it is stated that “the lack of expectations in the sector is causing the massive exodus of labour towards other activities where the workers find better remuneration and more immediate returns for their short and medium-term efforts.”(6)

One of the reasons put forth to explain the scant development of the oil palm sector is “the lack of a good highway network [that] prevents making the most of the improvements in family cottage productions.” This limitation is already being addressed on the basis of various agreements between the government of Equatorial Guinea and several companies –from origins as diverse as Brazil(7), France(8), Morocco(9), Belgium(10), China(11), among others- that are already embarked in building roads and other facilities.

Regarding the scarcity of labour, it is always possible that, if he considers it necessary President Teodoro Obiang Nguema (well-known for his propensity to violate human rights), will again turn to the old, well-known and feared Colonial-time “prestaciones.”

Everything would seem to indicate the possible future development of palm oil plantations. In this respect, it is stated that oil palm plantations “are one of the resources with the best chances of developing in an exceptionally favourable agro-climatic context with topographically suitable land for industrial plantations associated with family plantations. For this purpose, shortfalls in transport and labour will have to be solved, mobilizing national or foreign investment and, in the short term, resorting to intervention prices for oil seeds.”(12)

Obviously, for the benefits of such investment to reach the great majority of poor people who hardly manage to survive in this oil-rich country, it would be necessary to solve some more pressing problems first. For example, distribution of wealth, that ends up in the bank accounts of those holding power and in the coffers of the oil companies exploiting the resources. And, of course, the problem of human rights that have been violated for over three decades by the person who took up office after overthrowing and executing the previous leader: Teodoro Obiang, the current president.

 

6 – http://www.angelfire.com/sk2/guineaecuatorial/agricolforo.htm

9 – Somagec (Marruecos empresa de construcciones portuarias,http://somagecge.blogspot.com/