YAOUNDE, June 8 (Reuters) - Cameroon's forestry ministry has asked a company owned by New York venture capital firm Herakles Capital to slash the size of its planned palm oil plantation to 20,000 hectares from 73,000, a senior ministry source said on Saturday.
Ministry officials said on Thursday they had given the green light to Herakles Farms to continue developing its proposed plantation, covering an area more than 10 times the size of Manhattan, provided it complied with regulations.
The ministry had ordered the company to suspend development of the site in April pending a review of the public usefulness of the project, agreed in a 2009 deal with the ministry of economy, planning and territorial development (MINEPAT).
"We have asked them to forget their original deal signed with MINEPAT. The new 20,000 hectare site has yet to be determined," said the senior forestry ministry official who asked not to be identified.
A spokesman for Herakles Farms, Franklin Sone Bayen, declined to confirm or deny the information.
"The company is still in a process of negotiating with the Cameroonian government," he told Reuters.
Environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF have said the project violates Cameroon's laws and could endanger wildlife and deprive locals of their livelihoods.
Herakles Farms has repeatedly said it has fully complied with Cameroonian law and the wishes of local communities.
Though the forestry minister has sent a letter to Herakles authorising it to proceed with the clearance of the forest and planting of palms, officials said the company still requires logging permissions from the ministry.
Palm oil is the world's most widely produced vegetable oil and is used in everything from margarine and soap to biofuel. Annual production around the world is valued at about $20 billion. (Reporting by Beaugas-Orain Djoyum; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
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