Liberia: NGO to Assist Citizens Protect Their Land From Government Officials, Companies in Bomi

A palm plantation in Senjeh, Bomi County/ photo credit- Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)

Monrovia – A nongovernmental organization, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), has begun working with local people in Bomi to empower them resist a wave of land grab in that western county led by elites and concessioners. 

The “Protecting Communities and Forests against a Surge in Land-grabs in Bomi” project, which the NGO said would officially begin in Tubmanburg on Wednesday, is a follow-up to its 2019 report on the situation in the county. That report found that the officials, with help from tribal chiefs and elders, possibly converted more than 9,000 acres of land in the Senjeh, Klay and Suehn-Mecca Districts. Sime Darby, which was taken over by Mano Manufacturing Company (MANCO) earlier this month, has over 300,000 hectares, largely in Bomi. 

The new project targets some 30 community monitors who the NGO said in a release on Tuesday will be trained to document land grabs and deforestation, implement the Land Rights Act—which recognizes customary land ownership—and form resistance in order to reverse the trend in their county. SDI is partnering with the Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group and the Bomi Chapter of the Civil Society Council of Liberia. 

SDI will work with civil society council of Liberia, Bomi Chapter to build a mass movement of community members acting to defend their land rights,” the project document said. “The actions under this initiative will focus more on organizing and mobilizing communities to take collective actions. The mobilization and organization will be facilitated through series of community training and awareness building meetings.” The NGO also said it would make use of TIMBY, an online database that documents land grab, deforestation and other issues relating to the environment to help local communities understand and appreciate and know the value of their land. SDI will use its land valuation tools and online application TIMBY (This Is My Back Yard) to stimulate community consciousness, appreciation, and value of their land and forest resources. 

The NGO said it will also build the capacity of communities to advocate and demand actions through national and international, legal mechanisms such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Trainings would focus on free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and communities’ rights under the United Nations Principles on Business and Human Rights, it added.  “SDI and its international partner, Friend of the Earth (Netherlands), Milieudefensie (Dutch land rights NGO) will use documented evidence to inform international debates and decisions on land, forest, and the environment, mainly regarding financing the expansion of agro-commodities plantations.” 

James Otto, the main campaigner with SDI, said the NGO needed to respond quickly to the situation in Bomi because it undermined townspeople’s food sovereignty, livelihoods and development options and the Liberian economy. “The remaining forests are also under threat,” he said in the press release. “A toxic combination of land-grabs by politicians, government officials, powerful elites and the international palm oil company Sime Darby Plantations (now MANCO) is happening now in all of the five major districts in the county. As Liberia currently slowly declines in its economy management, one can only think that land is the only option to feed and care for community dwellers and their children now and in the future.Bomi (750 squares miles) is the poorest county in Liberia, with 70 percent of its 84,119 people subsistent farmers, according to Liberia’s last National Population Census in 2008.

“Additionally, this situation could get worse, if nothing is done to protect customary communities, especially so with the current government of Liberia is seeking to concede more land to large scale agriculture concessions instead of investing in Liberian smallholder farmers.”