Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Liberian Land grab

Liberian farmers who survived a 15-year civil war are now fighting lucrative property deals with Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil companies that threaten the land they live on, if not their sacred burial sites. Thirty hours by car from the capital Monrovia, the green and yellow flag of Golden Veroleum Liberia, an Indonesian palm oil giant, floats over deforested hills in Sinoe County, southern Liberia. In 2010, GVL acquired a 63-year lease on 220,000 hectares of land to produce palm oil. It pays annual rent of US$1.50 per hectare for virgin forest land and US$5 per hectare for cleared terrain in the lease, renewable for 30 more years. Palm oil is used for cooking in parts of Africa, Brazil and Southeast Asia, and is an ingredient in soaps and washing powders.

“The Indonesians came here for the first time in September 2010,'' resident Benedict Manewah explained. “They said: ‘We have a concession agreement, your president has sold it to us.’ Three months later they came back... and they started to destroy the properties, farmlands, crops, livestock and houses.’’ Manewah listed the crops he had planted. “I had rubber trees, cassavas, breadfruits, orange trees, cocoas, coconuts and palm trees,’’ for his family. GVL workers uprooted his crops to produce palm oil exclusively, and “they ship everything to their people, at home,’’ in Indonesia, he said.

Saydee Monboe pointed out that farmers now had no choice but to work under contract for GVL, charging: “This is not development, it's modern slavery.’’

Alfred Brownell, a lawyer who founded the organization Green Advocates, added:“The way they operate is almost as mob gangsters; threats, intimidation, illegal arrests,''

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