Land-grabbing in West Africa: Liberia is tempting Asian palm oil producers

Land-grabbing in West Africa: Liberia is tempting Asian palm oil producers

The citizens of Liberia – a nation already infamous for the use of child soldiers in the fratricidal war of the 1980s and 1990s – are protesting against the Malaysian company Sime Darby who, after having negotiated an agreement with the local government to exploit their lands, imposes inhumane working conditions on workers. The government of Liberia and the Sime Darby company received a 60-day ultimatum from the people of Grand Cape Mount County to organize a meeting and discuss the country’s future.

The inhabitants of 27 cities and villages accuse Malaysian society of razing and expropriating their lands, with a serious impact on the environment and on drinking water. In January, they met in Madina, in the Garrula District, to collect testimonies, and decided to ask the government for information on the agreement signed with Sime Darby.

“We want the rights of our community to be fully guaranteed, in the agreement for the concession of territories to Sime Darby, and for an equitable distribution of our resources to be recognized. The company should offer acceptable working conditions, hire qualified personnel, provide training opportunities and sufficient compensation to feed our families ”, is the request of the community.

But what does a Malaysian society do in the most fertile lands of West Africa? From the production of palm oil , the most widely used vegetable fat in the world, the cheapest and most versatile, since it lends itself to various uses, from food to cosmetics to bio-diesel. Indonesia and Malaysia, the first producers in the world, can no longer afford to raze their forests to cultivate palm oil because large international buyers have imposed on them compliance with rules for the protection of the environment and local populations.

And then, nothing better than to corrupt unstable African governments to conquer new lands in which to plant endless crops. To realize the interest of a few, exploiting natural resources and local populations who, once evicted from their lands, can be used at ridiculous costs. The rulers will stifle the protests, for a few more nestlings to be enjoyed in their gilded palaces.

Liberia lends itself well to land-grabbing, with its three and a half million inhabitants squeezed between the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The United Nations still maintains a strong presence and the CIA’s World Factbook confirms that “security is still fragile”. What better opportunity for casual investors to negotiate lucrative deals with the country’s president, the iron lady Ellen Johnson Sirleaf?

From Sime Darby and Golden Agri of Singapore to the aluminum giant Arcelor Mittal without forgetting the “usual” Chinese “. From basic minerals to oil palm, resources are well suited to new colonialists, including Equatorial Palm Oil (Epo), a London-listed company with ambitious plans to develop new oil palm plantations. Because palm oil, like basic minerals, is increasingly in demand. And Epo is already doing well, having won nearly 170,000 hectares of land. The giants of international finance – such as JP Morgan, Henderson, Blackrock and the Indian Siva Group – are competing in turn for investments in operations.

“China and the United States are carrying out large investments in Liberia – said Ahmad Zubir Murshid, chief executive of Sime Darby last year – We cannot wait until everything is perfect before investing or it will be too late”. So the Malaysian company on April 30, 2009 purchased from the Liberian government for $ 847 million the right to exclusively exploit approximately 220 thousand hectares of land for 60 years (in the counties of Gbarpolu, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Bong “). With the project to grow palm and rubber, build factories (for the production of vegetable oil and rubber) and a refinery (for vegetable oil), employing about 22,000 Liberians over the next ten years. But under what real conditions, beyond the claims of sustainability?

“This wave of land usurpations by emerging economies is reminiscent of European and US colonial practices – commented Glen Barry, president of Ecological Internet – Our protests have stopped similar projects in Papua New Guinea and in the Ivory Coast. Local populations need global support to resist this new wave of imperialism and to protect, preserve and benefit from their forests as such. “

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