In a New York Times op-ed, Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, an award-winning environmentalist and community activist in Liberia, and Rachael S. Knight, director of a legal-empowerment group, say that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be sowing the seeds of discontent by handing over huge tracts of land to foreign investors and dispossessing rural Liberians.
Between 2006 and 2011, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf granted more than a third of Liberia’s land to private investors to use for logging, mining and agro-industrial enterprises. Today, more than seven million acres have become forestry and agricultural concessions. In 2009 and 2010, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s government awarded more than 1.6 million acres for palm oil production. The land went to the Malaysian corporation Sime Darby and to Golden Veroleum, a subsidiary of the New York-based Verdant Fund L.P. These concessions come at a delicate time, as violent local-level land disputes both between and within villages are still widespread throughout Liberia.
More than a million people live in the regions where the palm-oil concessions were granted. And roughly 150,000 will be directly affected in the first five years of plantation development. Many could lose access to their homes, farms, cemeteries and sacred sites as well as the forest and water resources they depend on for survival. Yet the government negotiated these deals without consulting those who would bear the greatest burden.
In recent months, Sime Darby has begun developing its first 25,000 acres in Grand Cape Mount County in northwestern Liberia. Already, local communities are raising concerns about environmental degradation, desecration of sacred areas and the company’s failure to pay workers promised salaries. They have filed a complaint against Sime Darby before the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international certification body.
Read the entire op-ed at the New York Times.