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Banned in Cameroon, The Big Banana illustrates the poor working conditions in banana plantations and exposes the adverse impact on the people of a corporatocracy government that affords super profits for corporations at the expense of the local population.

The Big Banana outlines land grabbing tactics by company Plantation du Haut Penja (PHP) and the ensuing devastation for communities: poverty, pollution, and sickness from pesticides.

Bieleu, who spent two years filming residents in the remote countryside of Cameroon also features local cooperatives resisting the devastation through business alliances with fair trade organizations. As a result, The Big Banana not only exposes multinational corporations culpability in the land grab of Africa but also makes us reconsider where we get our fruit from.

Cameroon, 2011, 85min, Doc. in French with English subtitles, Franck Bieleu, dir.


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About the Film

 

The region of Njombe-Penja in the coast of Cameroon has a very fertile soil due to high volcanic property. Tropical fruit such as banana, pineapple or mango are widely cultivated for export toward the west, generating millions dollars profit to agro industrial companies. At first glance, a little paradise for the locals soon turns to nightmare following the new agreement APE (partnership agreement) between the ACP countries (Africa, Pacific, Caribbean) and Europe that allows free trade. Tropical fruit companies (The big Banana) are encouraged to increase their production to meet western demand. Such an increase requires more land. As a result, the big banana begins expropriating farmers with the help of the local government, leaving land owner, and small farmers with nothing to fend for themselves and their families. 

Director's Statement
The Big Banana is a film that addresses issues of banana exploitation in a small coastal region of Cameroon called Njombe by a French/American multinational. The company called PHP, which stands for “Plantation Haut Penja”, produces over 60% of the Cameroonian banana export sold in the European market. This banana exploitation should be a great asset for the region and the country as it provides jobs and salaries to over 10,000 people, but jobs at PHP are notoriously precarious, workers are underpaid, making less than $52/month for sometimes 14h of work without overtime compensation. The film gives the voice to the locals that are suffering from that exploitation, people who loose their land because of the greediness of the company which needs to expand their exploitations to increase their production and satisfy the European market demand, people who suffer from intensive agrochemical product use necessary for the banana production.


The Filmmakers

 

Franck BIELEU is a young Cameroonian filmmaker who focuses on documentaries that give a voice to people unable to reach out and tell their stories. He focuses on social subject that gnaw the community.

The Big Banana is his fourth film. What hope for the African Youth?, his first long-format documentary which addressed the phenomenon of mass migration of African youth toward the western countries due to the lack of perspective and opportunity, screened at the Africa World Documentary Festival and in prime time on the French overseas television RFO (Radio-Television de France Outre-Mer).

Franck BIELEU has studied film studies at London Metropolitan University in London England, before returning to Cameroon.

Miss Christelle Kouetcha, is a 25 years old young journalist who hold a journalism degree from the university of Douala. She joined Revaf Pictures 4 years ago and helped producing it first feature documentary "What hope for the African Youth?". "As a journalist it was important for me to document the banana trade in order to help spread the world about what is happening in this part the region of Cameroon, as an activist, it was my duty to report and help the costumers make informed decisions when they go to the supermarket and contribute in finding solutions to the problem my brothers and sisters are facing. Hopefully this film will get the parties around the table to address this issue.

 

James Marijeanne is an artist/animator living and working in the UK, and over the past 6 years has worked on character designs, storyboards, traditional hand-drawn and CG animation for Video games, commercials and TV animation - including the creation of the opening animation sequence for The Big Banana.


 

The Farmers

 

Mr Youpa is a small farmer who cultivates banana, pineapple on 5 acres of fertile land, before the French/American Company PHP took his land away from him; he subsequently lost his wife and was left to fend for his 5 children. "I had 5 acres of in production and 6 employees, but at the end PHP destroyed it all. I didn't receive any compensation. My plantation was destroyed three times by the PHP. They destroyed my plantation of banana, papaya, plantain to grow their bananas."

Mr Tapa was a lucrative businessman with over 200 acres of land. He exported banana, peper. Now, his land is used to grow flowers and pepper in the Njombe area by the French company. "they send me people from PHP, they offered to buy my plantation, I had two property titles. One of 120 acres and another of 80 acres, they wanted me to sell them my 120 acres, I said no it is not for sale. The bank took my land... I regreted not selling it to PHP, few weeks later they gave it to PHP"

Mr Tetang is an organic farmer operating far from the big banana due to the use of pesticides and the contamination of the soil and ground water. Mr Tetang grows organic pineapples and papaya for export with a Global Gap certification. "We cultivate fruit in general, but focusing on biological pineapples and papayas. Initially we worked in the region of Njombe-Penja, but because of the pollution due to the intensive use of pesticides, we had to move further away from the region."

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