‘Our future is now’: Communities in Liberia meet this week to discuss options after large-scale land grab

This blog piece first appeared on the Friends of the Earth International website.

Between 2009 and 2010 the Government of Liberia allocated more than a million acres of land to transnational palm oil producers Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia without consulting or securing the consent of those living on and using the land. Following the launch of a groundbreaking report from the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)/ Friends of the Earth Liberia, Uncertain Futures, the affected communities are holding a major conference this week to demand that their voices be heard in decision making.

The ‘Our future is now’ conference will take place in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County, Liberia, from 27-29 November, bringing together communities affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia.

The SDI report highlights how, as over a quarter of Liberia’s land area is now given over by the Government to rubber, oil palm and logging companies, Liberia risks becoming a land ‘lost in concessions’ with an uncertain future for the communities who are the original custodians and owners of the land.

These concessions are part of Liberia’s attempt to attract Foreign Direct Investment in the natural resource sector. Large plantations are promoted as a means to create jobs, bring development, and increase the government’s budget. However, they also risk the entrenchment of systemic economic and social injustices against poor and marginalised communities.

Large-scale land allocation to foreign corporations can give transnational companies enormous political power which can subvert local democratic decision making. At the same time as corporate power silences communities, the associated dispossession of rural people from their land contributes to increased poverty in rural areas, widens the gap between the urban elites that benefit from these business transactions and the rural poor who suffer the impacts, and entrenches inequality across Liberian society.

Both the Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia plantations are clear examples of this. According to the SDI report, ‘the situation facing communities impacted by the expansion of Sime Darby’s plantation in Garwula District, western Liberia is dire: the plantation is on their doorsteps, and their farms and farmlands are being swallowed up by it. There are very few alternative livelihood options.’ According to locals interviewed for the report, Sime Darby did not pay compensation for farm lands taken by the company. They also claim that compensation paid for crops that had been destroyed was inadequate and that forest areas used for cultural practices had also been destroyed and planted with oil palm.

SDI campaigner Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor points out that ‘the situation on the Sime Darby or Golden Veroleum Liberia plantation is about much more than the impacts of a single company.’ He warns that ‘allocating large swathes of fertile agricultural land to foreign companies for several decades is dangerous because as these companies expand their plantations, communities’ ability to cope will be stretched to the limit. It will push people further into poverty, as their income generating activities are curtailed and earning capacities become limited.’

During the course of the three day conference community representatives will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. More than 150 delegates from the counties affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu counties will be in attendance, along with a number of Monrovia-based civil society groups and international experts on agriculture, land, and community rights.

Led by local leaders, participants will be offered the opportunity to break into small groups to discuss their perspectives on the issue. At the end of the conference, community representatives will draft and adopt a document that details what they expect from palm oil concessionaires and the government.

For more information
Uncertain Futures (PDF)