Liberia: Communities Command Voice amid Oil Palm-Driven Deforestation

Moses Barssay Kollie of Rights and Rice Foundation

Tubmanburg, Bomi County – More than 50 people gathered over the weekend in Tubmanburg, Bomi County to discuss a global initiative on oil palm plantation and deforestation with a greater goal to include communities in a government-backed scheme that regulates the oil palm sector.

The workshop for the western region is the latest effort by the Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group (CSO OPWG) in making awareness on the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020. The TFA 2020 is a UN-backed global initiative that seeks to end deforestation driven by the beef, bean, paper and oil palm industries.

Liberia, a signatory to the TFA 2020, has given more than 2 million acres of its land to oil palm concessionaires.

However, the National Oil Palm Sector Technical Working Group, regulatory body that includes government agencies and promotes sustainable oil palm industry nationwide, does not have local communities’ representation, according to Moses Barssay Kollie of the Rights and Rice Foundation, one of 13 civil society organizations composing the group.

Participants at the workshop, who came from communities in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu, selected a representative to the regulatory body, Kollie added. The plan, he revealed, is to conduct similar workshops across all of the regions of the country get representatives from communities on the national oil palm regulatory body.

“We realize that communities are very, very important stakeholders when it comes to the oil palm sector. We want them on the table because it is their land the oil palm is being developed on,” said Mina Beyan of the Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDEV) at the margins of the workshop held at the Forestry Training Institute in Tubmanburg.

“As part of the awareness, we are telling communities… to be able to come together,” Beyan added. “The reason why communities are not there because we recognize the fact that communities are not organized.”

The western region hosts a large patch of forest and has one of the largest oil palm plantations, the Sime Darby.

James Otto of Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) told a team of reporters that the workshop was in the right place at the right time. “I think people need to work with Sime Darby more so that they understand that there are particular forest areas that they need to keep…,” Otto said.

“It (workshop) is important for this region because this region holds one of the largest forest zones, the Gola Forest, and it is important so that we can be able to know the difference between a forest and what is not a forest,” buttressed Edmord Greeves, Western Regional Coordinator with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The other organizations that compose of the civil society group are 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).

Oil palm concessions have witnessed a string of violence in Liberia. Earlier this year, a riot broke up in Grand Cape Mount after a video of a man being beaten by Sime Darby Plantation guards went viral on social media. An even bigger riot broke up in 2015 at the Golden Veroleum planation in Sinoe County that led to one death and the destruction of properties.

Last month, GVL withdrew from the Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO) over land grab and deforestation.

Liberia has signed a new law giving customary ownership to rural communities.