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African Film Shows Tensions Between Banana Growers, Villagers

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, from | 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. One Cameroonian woman in the film 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. "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. "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 from the American-based Institute for Policy Studies helped organize the showing of "The Big Banana." She says: "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."For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 16Aug2011)
Length: 04:00


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