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UN Summit on development in a country pillaged by landgrabbing

The United Nations meeting in Liberia on a new global development framework is taking place in a country pillaged by landgrabs. Silas Siakor explained in one of EJOLTs podcasts how the government allocated some 350.000 hectares to Sime Darby, a Malaysian multinational, without local people even knowing that their lands were sold. And we also published his earlier report on landgrabbing in Liberia.

At the eve of this UN meeting, Friends of the Earth International is backing local NGOs’ demands such as renegotiation of contracts for land concessions and a reassessment of the Liberian agricultural development strategy on which these concessions are based.  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 (see sources).

“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 Sustainable Development Institute campaigner Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor. He adds that “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”.

Civil society organisations are also concerned about large-scale conversion of primary and secondary forest to palm oil plantations as Sime Darby expands into Gbarpolu county. “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 recognise their ownership of community land”, said Save My Future Foundation 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 will be present 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.

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