Monrovia -- Palm oil companies are grabbing more than 1.5 million acres of land in Liberia and are violating the human rights of local communities, warn Liberian NGOs including Friends of the Earth Liberia (SDI - Sustainable Development Institute), Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU) and Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev).
On the eve of a United Nations meeting in Liberia, that discussed a new global development framework, Friends of the Earth International is backing the local NGOs' demands - including renegotiation of contracts for land concessions and a reassessment of the Liberian agricultural development strategy on which these concessions are based.
Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby and Indonesian Golden Veloreum have entered into long term land leases with the Liberian Government.
Investigations into Sime Darby's operations reveal that communities located in the areas allocated to the company had little warning or consultation of this land grab. Many of the inhabitants, especially women, say they have lost their farms and food sources, livelihoods, as well as culturally sacred sites to oil palm plantations.
An analysis of the contracts between the Liberian Government and the Asian companies demonstrates they are likely to be violating several Human Rights conventions ratified by Liberia.
"Giving away land for large scale plantations is hailed as promoting the economic recovery of Liberia but in reality these plantations undermine Liberia's basic food security and cause poverty when livelihoods are lost.
Therefore allowing these plantations contradicts the Liberian Government's own policies on reducing poverty and preventing hunger", says SDI campaigner Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor.
"Allocating large swathes of fertile agricultural land to foreign companies for several decades will push people further into poverty, as local income generating activities are curtailed and peoples' earning capacities become limited", he adds
Civil society organizations are also concerned about large scale conversion of primary and secondary forest to palm oil plantations as Sime Darby expands into Gbarpolu county. They are demanding a halt to any further planting and further deforestation and environmental degradation in any of the concession areas.
"Forests have environmental benefits and provide multiple livelihood sources for the people, which they have now lost. Employment from the plantations is insecure; low- paid and does not contribute to sustaining livelihoods in the long term.
Instead, local communities want the Liberian government and the palm oil companies to recognize their ownership of community land", says SAMFU campaigner Robert Nyahn.
The UN High Level panel meeting in Monrovia brings together political leaders from around the world, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, to discuss development goals especially in Africa.
Friends of the Earth Liberia were expected at this meeting to question the suitability of large scale land concessions as a development strategy in Liberia.
Sime Darby claims that it upholds international human rights standards and voluntary guidelines such as the UN Global Compact of which the company is a signatory.
However, in its operations in Liberia, Sime Darby is violating several principles of the Global Compact as well as OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies.