Monrovia, Liberia – June 3, 2019: In a first admission of business losses, the world biggest oil palm producer by acreage Sime Darby of Malaysia says its net profit fell by about 70% compared to the first quarter of 2018.
According to the company’s Managing Director Mohd Bakke Salleh, Sime Darby is expected to reach a decision by year’s end on its future operations in the West African country of Liberia. The company has a 63 year concession agreement in the country to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for palm oil and rubber plantations in the administrative districts of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Bong Counties. Sime Darby says it already farming plantations in Grand Cape Mount,. Bomi and Lofa Counties.
Liberia will need to maintain the company’s investment, jobs and tax revenues to bolster its struggling economy at a critical time when other major investors including Firestone Rubber and the Turkish MNG Gold Mining Company have slashed jobs to cope to slumping global prices for their commodities.
Sime Darby’s Managing Director who did not disclose names, admitted that there have been ”a number of inquiries about our business in Liberia”. There have been speculations in recent months of that Sime Darby was contemplating leaving Liberia because of heavy business losses. There is no word from the Liberian Government on this latest development.
A two – day capacity building workshop for Oil Palm Affected Communities and Civil Society Organizations in Free, Prior Inform Consent and Land Rights has opened in the Liberian capital, Monrovia with call on participants to pay keen attention to lessons being taught for the benefit of their respective communities.
The theme of the workshop is: “Improved Technical Capacity of CSOs To Effectively Engage In The Oil Palm Sector”.
According to our Monrovia correspondent, the workshop which is organized by the Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group (CSO-OPWG) is sponsored by Tropenbos International and Rights & Resources Initiative. Participants were drawn from 6 counties where oil palm concessions are actively taking place. The counties include Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Grand Bassa, Bomi, and Grand Cape Mount.
Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development’s Coordinator, Daniel Krakue said the objective of the FPIC and Land Rights training is to empower local civil society actors and community leadership on how to engage oil palm companies on basic human rights principles in line with FPIC and community land rights, which focuses on the newly passed Land Rights Law for the general good of the communities. “The main objective of the workshop is to build the capacity of CSOs working in the oil palm sector in basic human rights principles and community land rights”, Mr. Krakue said.
Speaking on the importance of the FPIC process, Mina Beyan said, FPIC is an international legal standard that is protected by both Liberia’s national law and the legally binding human rights treaties to which Liberia is a party.
She said, during FPIC process, communities have a right to decide their own future, and not for someone to decide for them relating to the usage of their lands. According to her, FPIC is covered under both national and international instruments which protect or provide clear guidelines for communities during negotiation for land for concession purposes.
The Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia and the Liberia Land Authority are both serving as facilitators for the training. Also making presentations are Chris Kidd of Forest Peoples’ Programme (FPP) and James G. Otto of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).
The introduction of FPIC and land rights training in the Liberian oil palm sector would not have come at better time when affected communities and civil society organizations are struggling to combat non compliance to social agreements and illegal clearing of vast forest land by concession companies mainly Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby.
The processes leading to these concessions have been described by right groups including Global Witness as illegal and detrimental to communities. For instance, Liberian Land Rights Act encourages the allocation of land for concession purposes for 50 years. But the agreement with GVL says 65 years while the agreement with Sime Darby is 63 years.
In addition, these agreements do not meet the principles and criteria of the Round Table Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Free, Prior Inform Consent (FPIC), which are internationally agreed standards for operating oil palm concession. With the coming into play of the FPIC and RSPO, it is expected that communities will not be forced into inducement, coercion, intimidation or manipulation during negotiation of land for concession purposes.
By Paul M. Kanneh reporting from Monrovia, Liberia