A group of ten Liberian civil society organizations has agreed to a new course of action in their advocacy for equitable distribution of wealth generated from the palm oil sector and reform of the palm oil sector.
The Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group said they have recognized that the agriculture sector has a potential to contribute to food security, but could not realize such potential in the absence of progressive policies and robust regulatory frameworks to govern investments in the sector.
They said there were inadequate laws and policies governing the sector to provide enabling conditions for realizing the full potential of the agriculture sector.
"The concession agreements with Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia have provisions that do not comply with Liberian laws and international human rights standards," the group said in a declaration recently after a two-day retreat held at the Foundation for Community Initiative (FCI), one of the organizations comprising the group.
"The duration of these agreements violates the statutory limit on duration of government leasing of public land. Their security officers have the power to arrest and detain Liberians, and they have the right to restrict freedom of movement," it added in reference to the two major oil palm concessions in Liberia.
The group comprising Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF), Green Advocates, and Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) said it would focus on land rights and benefits, legal and regulatory frameworks, and the safety and security of human rights defenders. It would also focus on capacity building for civil society actors to be active in communities and teaching them to know and demand their rights, as well as alternative livelihood for locals.
"The Liberia Land Authority Act must be further strengthened for communities' land-related grievances to be adequately redressed," the group said.
The group came out with the statement following years of debate surrounding destruction of the forests for oil palm cultivation, and the decision by the EU Parliament to place a ban on the use of palm oil for bio-fuel.
Environmentalists say destruction of the forests for oil palm cultivation is contributing to the effect of climate change on the planet.
Oil palm recently hit the global headlines when the European Parliament placed a ban on its use in the production of bio-fuels in European Union countries. The ban is expected to take effect on January 1, 2022.
Meanwhile, Sustainable Development Initiative, a local advocacy group focused on forest protection and natural resource governance in Liberia, has also welcomed the decision by the European Union Parliament that seeks to prevail on the Liberian Government to improve efforts in protecting the remaining forests. It is at the same time calling on the new administration to prevail on oil palm companies to respect human rights in compliance with obligations agreed on between communities and operating companies.
"The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) is urging the new government of Liberia to ensure that oil palm companies respect human rights (especially those of local communities) in compliance with international best practices as well as fulfilling their obligations agreed in memoranda of understanding with local communities," lead campaigner James Otto said.
Liberia has 44.9 percent of the Guinea Forest belt in West Africa, home to some endangered species. The forests provide a wealth of resources that help in combating climate change that has become of growing concern to the world.
Besides logging, which has been the main activity affecting the forest, oil palm cultivation has posed greater threats capable of destroying it. Some oil palm companies operating in the country are Golden Veroleum, Sime Darby, and Equatorial Oil Palm.
The presence of these companies has sparked contentions with local communities over the years. Community dwellers have protested many times against oil palm companies for usurping their farmlands, thereby causing operations of some of the companies to cease.
It can be recalled that in May 2015 a riot broke out between locals and Golden Veroleum in Butaw, Sinoe County, resulting in injuries and loss of properties. There have also been strings of riots by communities against oil palm companies in Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount over the last five years.
SDI in its declaration said oil palm companies need to improve their practices on the ground so that they reflect full recognition and respect for women's rights and interests, and broad human rights.