African Film Shows Tensions Between Banana Growers, Villagers
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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
A movie from Cameroon called "The Big Banana" has come to the United States. It looks at issues with the banana industry like disputed land rights, food insecurity and pollution.
This woman in Cameroon says the land belongs to local villagers and they are asking operators of banana plantations to give it back.
Franck Hameni Bieleu directed the documentary film. He says officials prevented a showing in Yaounde, the capital. He says making the movie was difficult, and even led to his brief detention.
FRANCK BIELEU: "I got arrested because the chief of that part of the village did not want me to film because he is being paid by the banana company. You understand, the thing is, everything around that area is controlled by the company. If you look at the congressman of the region, he is also the director of public relations of the company. The minister of trade of Cameroon is also president of the board of directors of the company."
The company, Plantations du Haut Penja, is French and American owned. Representatives would not talk to the filmmakers. The company and Cameroonian officials did not answer a request for a VOA interview.
Mr. Bieleu says large parts of fertile land in Cameroon are being used for banana exports. As a result, local residents have more and more difficulty growing their own food or finding food to buy.
Also, the use of pesticide chemicals is blamed for polluting water and causing health problems. Villagers accuse the company of destroying their fields to expand the banana plantations after getting land leases from the government.
Mr. Bieleu says the problem exists across Africa as foreigners increasingly invest in agricultural land. He says government corruption is stronger than the people's traditional rights to the land.
FRANCK BIELEU: "When a company arrives and just shows the money, the big cash, what happens is the government just gives them the land that they want, and these people cannot defend themselves because they do not have any rights on that land."
Emira Woods with the American-based Institute for Policy Studies helped organize showing the film in the United States. In her opinion the biggest issue facing Africa this century is what many activists call the "land grab."
EMIRA WOODS: "The structure of the problem has to be changed so that more and particularly small- and medium-sized farmers have the opportunities to remain on their land. And at the moment, because of threats from multinational corporations, from sovereign wealth funds, whether it is Saudi Arabia or Iran, the list is actually growing of countries that are looking to Africa as a source of access to land when arable land is becoming much more scarce on this planet."
The organizers said they hoped Washington policy makers would watch the film to better understand the need to protect local food production around the world.
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. You can watch scenes from "The Big Banana" at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Karen Leggett.
Contributing: Nico Colombant