Liberia: Civil Society, Communities to Reduce Deforestation in Oil Palm Concessions

Members of rural communities and civil society

Monrovia – Civil society organizations and communities affected by oil palm concessions across Liberia have grouped themselves in addressing urgent issues in the oil palm sector, demanding more access to mechanisms that can make concessionaires more accountable in line with laws and regulations.

Nearly 2 million hectares of forestlands have been leased to just three oil palm concessionaires in Liberia. There was a scheme—Conversion Timber—in 2016 that sought to give mining and logging rights to oil palm concessionaires on their acquired forestlands but saw rigorous opposition from campaigners.

Campaigners say the growth of the oil palm sector threatens Liberia’s efforts to minimize deforestation for which it signed a US$150 million land mark agreement with the Norwegian Government in 2015 and undermines its pledge to the Paris Climate Agreement to restore some its lost forestlands.   

Also, Liberia’s oil palm sector has been some of the most troublesome investment sectors in the country, with riots, protests and human rights abuses its constant features over the years. The most recent are the torturing of a man at the Sime Darby Plantation in Grand Cape Mount County and the May 2015 Golden Veroleum riot in Butaw, Sinoe County.

The Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group (CSO-OPWG) and nine counties—Bassa, Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi, Sinoe, River Cess, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland—want to see an end to all of that. They are getting support from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) The project runs for nine months and styles “Increasing CSO access to accountability mechanisms with Oil Palm Investments in Liberia”. The project is being spearheaded by Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev).

A one-day workshop was organized on Monday for the communities to understand the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a private-public partnership that seeks to reduce tropical deforestation caused by the production of key commodities –palm oil, beef, soy beans and paper—by 2020. TFA2020 Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI) in Liberia and the need for communities to be more organized to nominate their representation on to the TFA2020 platform such that their voices on their rights including tenure rights can be heard and included in the TFA2020 process in Liberia. Seventy people, including 57 from rural communities, participated in the event.

“The specific objectives of the workshop were for communities: to understand the TFA2020 concept and the role communities can play to ensure zero deforestation in the oil palm supply chain,” said Mina Beyan, Program Director of SESDev. “It also raised awareness on the TFA2020 Platform and the need for community active participation and representation at national level meetings and forums,” she added.

Beyan said the workshop also focused on recommendations for an upcoming TFA2020 Africa Palm Oil Initiative Regional Meeting in Accra, Ghana. She said the workshop looked at a 2018 TFA2020 Liberian work plan for coordination where communities planned for mobilization at a regional level.

Communities within the nine oil palm-affected counties formed three regions: western, southeastern and central-south regions; and proposed dates for the TFA 2020 awareness outreach in each of the regions.  They also proposed organizing under one umbrella, at the national level, to ensure their active participation on national platforms

“A 12-count recommendation was made, notably among them were the need for companies to be FPIC (free, prior and informed consent) compliant with emphasis on companies to respect the rights and dignity of local communities particularly women, government to ensure value addition to the palm oil produced in the country, government to revisit and reduce the tenure of all oil palm concessions,” Beyan disclosed. She said communities were asking the Liberian government to ensure that companies comply with the Liberian labor law and policies and frameworks of the International Labor Organization.

Other organizations involved with the civil society oil palm working group are Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF), Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), Green Advocates (GA), Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP), Youth Focus Center (YFC), Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), Environmental Relief and Development Research Organization (ERADRO), and Save My Future (SAMFU) Foundation).