[TheLandIsOurs] Liberia - communities join to fight the palm oil land grab

Ram Selva seeds at snail.org.uk
Sat Jul 26 11:57:34 BST 2014

Running away with Land as Human Rights needs careful steps.

Agri-business is often only a sideshow, often blinkered campaigns on 
sustainable futures, where there is larger land abuse issues at play.
Liberia is a good example where this is true.

Liberia also connects beyond the European imposed borders in every 

Almost everything negative that has been going on and goes on in Liberia 
including its current muppet Noble Peace Prize winning president Ellen 
Jhonson Sirleaf are firmly under the influence of extractive industries.

Liberia, like neighbouring Sierra Leone must be seen as the gateway to 
arguably the world's richest mineral resources in the region, such as 
the Simandou mountains of Guinea. In the caase of Simandou Liberia is 
increasingly the preferred corridor for trasport infrastructure.

Please refer to material dropping out of the landmark lawsuit filed by 
Rio Tinto against ex-partner in crimes Vale of Brazil [1]

So where is the real connections between Liberia and the regional 
extractive industries powerplay?


-- The Sustainable Development lie that too tied to extractive 
industries is run out this Vale sponsored unit at Columbia
-- Vale btw is BRICS block's biggest financial player (this is important 
for the fools promoting UN arguments for sustainable development tied up 
to 'alternative' global power play and close to governments)
-- sharing of resources, especially of energy for Agri Business is a key 
driver for further knock-on effects

Real and holistic 'land and human rights' related arguments are yet to 
take off and London's central role in rape of *global* natural resources 
requires people to first break out of insularity plaguing land campaigns 
in the UK.
ie too much focus on Agri-Business alone to address global issues is an 
unhealthy start to any global campaign.

The most recent spark seen on land and human rights issues was a 
Guardian article [2] that really needs to be followed up.
London Stock Exchange listing of companies needs checked. But then again 
extractive industries should probably be the natural first step here.
Campaigns against agri-businesses and tainted land campaigns focused on 
narrow issues should not be the first step to criticise what goes oin 
Liberia or for that matter any far away country,

[1] Vale is now threatening to drop out of ICMM:

[2] NGOs such as Amnesty Intl. are part of the problem so the article is 

- Ram

On 21-07-2014 22:32, Simon Fairlie chapter7 at tlio.org.uk [TheLandIsOurs] 
>> From: Jacinta Fay <jacintafay at gmail.com>
>> http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2481988/ 
>> 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 sdiliberia.org
>> W: www.sdiliberia.org
>> F: www.facebook.com/sdi.liberia
>> T: @SDILiberia
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