Liberia - communities join to fight the palm oil land grab

Simon Fairlie chapter7 at
Mon Jul 21 22:32:32 BST 2014

> From: Jacinta Fay <jacintafay at>
> liberia_communities_join_to_fight_to_palm_oil_land_grab.html
> Liberia - communities join to fight the palm oil land grab
> Jacinta Fay & Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor
> 18th July 2014
> Liberia's Jogbahn Clan is at the forefront of efforts to resist the  
> grab of Indigenous Peoples' land and forests for palm oil  
> plantations. But according to the country's President, they are  
> only 'harrassing and extorting' international investors.
> If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by  
> our crops. Palm plantations can't help us!
> "They refuse to talk to us about our land business. Because we are  
> standing here, are we not people? We are somebody."
> So spoke Elder Chio Johnson defiantly looking through the tall iron  
> gates of Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad  
> (KLK's) office in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
> His Jogbahn Clan had come to deliver a petition signed in  
> solidarity by over 90,000 people to tell the UK and Malaysian palm  
> oil companies that they must stop grabbing the Clan's land. However  
> the companies refused to speak with the community.
> EPO also thwarted efforts to present the petition in London, when  
> they refused a meeting. Attempts to doorstop their London premises  
> proved futile - the office appears to exist only in the form of a  
> brass plate.
> A source of inspiration
> Even though the companies refused to speak with the communities the  
> story of their struggle is now known all over the world with  
> signatories for the petition coming from across the globe.
> Their story has also been a source of inspiration for communities  
> all over Liberia who like the Clan are facing dispossession from  
> their land by agribusiness corporations that will replace their  
> sustainable communities with monocultural plantations to produce  
> certified 'sustainable' palm oil for the global market.
> The fight many communities are facing in protecting their land is a  
> fight for their very survival.
> Last month Liberian communities affected by all four major palm oil  
> companies; Equatorial Palm Oil / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Golden  
> Veroleum Liberia (Golden Agri-Resources), SIFCA / Maryland Oil Palm  
> Plantation (Wilmar / Olam) and Sime Darby came together for the  
> first time to discuss agriculture concessions as a national issue.
> Different companies, one shared experience
> These companies are European (UK), Asian (Malaysian, Indonesian and  
> Singaporean) and African (Côte d'Ivoire) with considerable European  
> financing. The focus was on creating a space for these diverse  
> communities to share their experiences.
> The same narrative of exploitation is playing out all over the  
> country; the companies' names were interchangeable. Bringing the  
> communities together in this way laid the foundations for  
> connecting their separate struggles.
> Chio Johnson offered advice to the other communities, urging them  
> to stay united in the face of the companies' divide and rule  
> tactics. "Land is life, it is too valuable to lose", he warned.
> Solomon Gbargee, a youth representative gave a stirring speech  
> recounting the Clan's struggle so far and urged all the communities  
> to stand together in their resistance of the companies:
>  "If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live  
> by our crops. Palm plantations can't help us!"
> A solidarity network is formed
> Communities impacted by Wilmar's operations described resisting  
> land clearances and the destruction of their property. When they  
> objected to paltry compensation for destroyed crops they were told  
> by their politicians: "If you want to get nothing, take to the  
> streets" - where communities who continue to protest face assault  
> and arrest.
> Deyeatee Kardor, Jogbahn Clan's chairlady called on women to lead  
> the struggle. "Because I stood up to the company people accused me  
> of being a man but I carry the spirit of a thousand women", she  
> proclaimed.
> "For those of us under struggle with a palm company we must remain  
> strong. My land is my land, your land is your land, your forest and  
> bushes are your bank. Don't get tired. We cannot agree to leave our  
> land."
> Communities shared advice and support and these exchanges led to  
> the development of a community solidarity network to provide a  
> platform to work together.
> Now communities are 'harrassing and extorting investors'
> In her ninth Address to the Nation in January 2014 the President of  
> Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, characterised community resistance  
> to large scale concessions on their land as "harassment and  
> extortion of investors".
> "Agriculture remains the key sector of the economy for local  
> employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income  
> generation, as over 60 percent of the population depends on this  
> sector for livelihood.
> "Food security is listed as a national priority, but we must admit  
> that there has been under-investment by both the public and private  
> sectors. Only massive investment can fix this under-performing  
> sector so that it can play the vital role of delivering inclusive  
> economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty  
> reduction.
> "Our scarce budget resources cannot do this, given the many other  
> priorities, so we will need to attract investment from the private  
> sector. At the same time, the private sector will not respond if  
> there is continued harassment, extortion and unreasonable community  
> demands."
> Her statement somehow failed to recognise that investors are  
> primarily interested in the production of export cash crops - which  
> does nothing to increase food security in Liberia. Indeed it  
> achieves the very reverse, as land used for local food production  
> is comandeered to produce commodities for global markets.
> The result of community resistance, she later claimed, is to  
> undermine Liberia's economic growth and harm "the renewed  
> confidence that Liberia is still a good destination for investment".
> Earlier this year she voiced support for the Jogbahn Clan's  
> struggle against EPO - as reported by The Ecologist. But her  
> promises have come to nothing.
> Voices of dissent stifled - but not yet silenced
> The prevailing narrative of Liberia for so long was that of a  
> country ravaged by a long and bloody conflict. The current  
> narrative is one of 'Liberia Rising' - a country that has dusted  
> off the ashes of the war and plans to be a middle income country by  
> 2030 through a development path focused on Foreign Direct Investment.
> Within this narrative the voices of communities affected by palm  
> oil have been silenced.
> But even if the Liberian government refuses to acknowledge  
> agricultural concessions as a fraught national issue it is being  
> viewed as such internationally.
> The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the industry body for the  
> palm oil sector, undertook a mission visit to Liberia. This was the  
> first of its kind to address the high volume of complaints lodged  
> by communities in Liberia against Golden Veroleum Liberia and  
> Equatorial Palm Oil.
> However the vast number of complaints lodged to the RSPO by  
> Liberian communities without satisfactory resolution shows the  
> inherent weaknesses of such industry created voluntary mechanisms.
> The 'breadbasket' narrative - 'production must increase!'
> The voices of affected communities are also absent from the current  
> prevailing 'breadbasket' narrative which argues that feeding the  
> world requires investment in large scale agriculture to make  
> Africa's 'unproductive' land productive.
> A widely reported study, 'Food appropriation through large scale  
> land acquisitions', shows how 300-550 million people could be fed  
> if land "marginally utilized because of lack of modern technology"  
> was subjected to high-tech commercial agriculture, compared to the  
> "190-370 million people [that] could be supported by this land  
> without closing of the yield gap."
> But it also draws attention to the fact that the increases in food  
> production would not bring benefits to the countries, or  
> communities, whose land was used in this way:
> "These numbers raise some concern because the food produced in the  
> acquired land is typically exported to other regions, while the  
> target countries exhibit high levels of malnourishment. Conversely,  
> if used for domestic consumption, the crops harvested in the  
> acquired land could ensure food security to the local populations ...
> "These investments in agriculture often occur without the 'informed  
> consent' of current land users, with no consideration of the  
> societal and environmental impacts of the conversion from  
> subsistence farming to large scale commercial agriculture, and  
> without ensuring that the profits are shared with the local  
> communities (ILC International Land Coalition 2011). For these  
> reasons the process is often referred to as 'land grabbing'."
> So the study does address the fact that the crops set to be  
> produced on this grabbed land are not to grow food for subsistence  
> and local markets but for cash crops for export - to support the  
> Global North's unsustainable overconsumption of biofuels, animal  
> feed and processed goods, not to feed the hungry and malnourished  
> people of the Global South.
> Yet its fails to consider another dimension of 'efficiency' - it's  
> not just about production per hectare, but also about production  
> per unit of input resources - such as energy, water, pesticide,  
> herbicide ...
> Land as a human right
> And its conclusion is astonishingly - indeed disgracefully - weak:  
> "While there are some pros in the increase in agricultural  
> production that could result from large scale investments, some  
> measures should be in place to ensure that the benefits are shared  
> with the local populations."
> This is an entirely inadequate reflection of the reality that  
> hunger in the world today is a political and economic artefact -  
> and not the result of a shortage of food production.
> Nor does it represent the truth that land is much more than an  
> 'economic factor of production' - but is the root of the culture,  
> livelihood and spirituality of those millions of people worldwide  
> that depend on their land to survive.
> Nor does it acknowledge that the right of Indigenous Peoples to  
> remain on their historic land is a fundamental human right,  
> essential to their survival and dignity. This right is strongly  
> maintained in Convention 169 of the International Labour  
> Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which states  
> (Article 7):
> "The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own  
> priorities for the process of development as it affects their  
> lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands  
> they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the  
> extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural  
> development. In addition, they shall participate in the  
> formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes  
> for national and regional development which may affect them directly."
> So any land-grab of indigenous territory, such as that of the  
> Jogbahn Clan, is in fact a severe breach of internatinal  
> humanitarian law. How on Earth could this essential fact escape the  
> notice of the distinguished academic authors?
> Only small scale, sustainable agriculture can feed the world
> The former UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food, Olivier De  
> Schutter argued in The Ecologist that shifting to large‐scale,  
> highly mechanized forms of agriculture will not solve hunger but  
> make it worse.
> Poverty and hunger will be addressed by ensuring communities have  
> access to land and resources and are supported in small scale  
> agriculture. Smallholder agro-ecological farming and small-scale  
> food production can ensure the sustainable use of resources and  
> sustainable livelihoods. It can also out-perform industrial  
> commodity production.
> 70% of the world is fed by smallholder farmers like the Jogbahn  
> Clan. The Clan countered the unproductive land argument better than  
> any academic paper could when they presented all the crops they  
> produced on their land to the visiting RSPO delegation. "This is  
> why we will not give up our land", said Chio.
> Though the Jogbahn Clan continues to face the threat of the  
> imminent clearing of their land, they will keep resisting.
> And given the rousing calls of "Community Action" made by the  
> communities when they came together to form the solidarity network  
> they will not be alone but alongside other communities in Liberia  
> and in solidarity with communities resisting land grabs worldwide.
> Jacinta Fay
> Community Rights and Corporate Governance Campaigner - Sustainable  
> Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia
> Landgrab Campaigner - Friends of the Earth International
> Duarzon Village
> Margibi County
> Liberia
> P: +231(0)770001452/+231(0)880593133
> E: jfay at
> W:
> F:
> T: @SDILiberia
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