Screening "The Big Banana Movie"


On the 19th October 2011, AEFJN organised a screening of the documentary "The Big Banana Movie" at the European Parliament in Brussels. More than fifty people attended the screening and the debate and they showed great interest in the topic. The film documents the dire working conditions of about 6,000 workers of the PHP Banana plantation in Njombé, Cameroon. The workers are forced to work long hours and receive only a pittance in return. Due to the intensive use of pesticides, many of them also face severe health problems.


The film also describes how the importance of banana production led Cameroon to sign the controversial Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU, and the issue of land ownership arising from PHP's continuous need to expand to increase its production.


PHP is Cameroon's largest banana producer, accounting for about 40% of the country’s overall banana production. PHP is owned by the French Compagnie fruitière. PHP's banana production is destined for export - mainly to Europe - not for local consumption in Cameroon.


The film has been banned in Cameroon where the police blocked a public screening in Yaoundé on the 26th April this year.


Thijs Berman, coordinator of the group of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the Development Committee of the European Parliament and Richard Howitt, coordinator of the group of the S&D group in the subcommittee for Human Rights and rapporteur of the European Parliament on Corporate Social Responsibility, agreed to host the event at the European Parliament. They were unfortunately unable to attend the screening themselves and were substituted by Norbert Neuser of the S&D group and member of the Development Committee and of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.


The screening was followed by a debate with the film's director Franck Hameni, Christophe Tiyong from the Cameroonian antenna of AEFJN and with MEP Norbert Neuser The debate was moderated by AEFJN's Thomas Lazzeri. Franck Hameni explained that it took him two and a half years to make the film and to carry out the interviews with numerous people affected by PHP. The management of PHP declined to comment on the accusation contained in the film. Nobert Neuser mentioned how the film causes a sense of anger in the viewer, but also prompts him to react to the injustices and take action.


Christophe Tiyong explained the land right situation in Cameroon where the local population is often not aware of the legal status of the land they live on. He pointed out that only about one third of the arable land in Cameroon is used. However, much of the unused land is far away from the villages and difficult to reach, which increases the competition for the land that is already used. Audience members asked Mr Hameni if he felt safe in Cameroon. He replied that he did not feel his person was threatened, partly because he had in the meantime acquired sufficient public visibility. However, he could not say the same about other less visible persons involved in the struggle against PHP. Franck Hameni explained that in Cameroon there are no independent trade unions like in Europe to stand up to defend the rights of the workers in the banana plantation. Answering a specific question on the problems with EPAs, he pointed out how EPAs force local Cameroonian producers to compete with much better equipped European multinationals which will flood Cameroonian markets with cheap products, pushing local producers out of the market.



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