The tropical moist forest area of Cross River state has the largest area of tropical forest in the country. Approximately 8,500 square kilometres are mostly undisturbed virgin forest, partially under community ownership. 5,140 square kilometres of the tropical high forest land are designated as protected areas, comprising the Cross River National Park, which occupies 3,330 square kilometres of high forest, and the Forest Reserves occupying 1,810 square kilometres of forest land where the Etara and Ekuri-Eyeyeng communities have their customary lands.
The lands of the Etara and Ekuri-Eyeyeng are being held in trust by the Government of Cross River State of Nigeria, on behalf of those indigenous communities for whom the forest is the most important source of livelihood. It is in the forest where they find fertile farmlands and timber resources used for local construction, and where they collect most of the non-timber forest products used for food, income, local crafts and medicine. The forest also protects streams and rivers from drought cycles, delivers clean water, and is considered by the community as a sacred place where their ancestors are buried.
Now, the integrity of the forest and thus the livelihood of the communities are under threat. A company known as Southgate Cocoa Produce Limited is planning to acquire a parcel of land comprising 72.41 square kilometres of pristine rainforest that lies completely within the immediate contiguous forest buffer zone of the Cross River National Park in Etara and Ekuri-Eyeyeng community forest lands, in order to establish industrial cocoa plantations.
The Nigerian organization Rainforest Resource & Development Centre (RRDC) has been denouncing the project on the grounds that it is “contrary to the interests of the indigenous communities.” Furthermore, while the use of the forest reserve for the plantation of cocoa would be in violation of the law, no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been carried out. RRDC warns that “the Cross River South Forest Reserve is a pristine and intact rainforest ecosystem, and therefore this project is a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the. ecosystem and to the adjoining Oban Division of the Cross River National Park.”
RRDC also points out that Southgate has contacts with large global interest groups. One of these groups is Armajaro Trading Limited, a subsidiary of Armajaro Holding, based in London. It engages in the sourcing and delivery of cocoa, and supplies chocolate manufacturers in Asia, South America, North America, and elsewhere internationally.
A campaign calling for rapid response has been launched by RRDC to inform Armajaro and/or any other foreign parties or partners that, contrary to the information that is being propagated by Southgate and its agents, the land in question lies completely within the immediate contiguous forest buffer zone of the Oban Division of the Cross River National Park and the forest land in question is a pristine tropical rainforest and not a “degraded reserve” as they allege.