SDI welcomes President Sirleaf's commitment to protecting Joghban clan’s land from further encroachment by British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil

Date: 
Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) congratulates the President on her bold step recognising and respecting communities’ customary ownership of their land and their rights to say yes or no to palm oil plantation on their land. In a meeting between the communities from District no.4, Grand Bassa County and the President yesterday the government committed to supporting communities in protecting their land from further expansion by the company.

“This is a victory for Joghban clan who have secured their rights to their most valuable resource; their land which they rely on for their livelihoods and their cultural heritage” said Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, SDI’s Lead Campaigner, “This is also a victory for community rights in Liberia with communities’ voices being heard and respected. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a progressive practice. The government’s willingness to listen to these communities’ concerns and taking steps to ensure that those concerns are addressed is laudable”.

For more information contact:
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, Campaigner at SDI: +231 (0) 880655712/ 0770001450
Jonathan W. Yiah, Coordinator at SDI: +231 (0) 770001453
Email: ssiakor[at]sdiliberia.org/managementteam[at]sdiliberia.org.

Background

Founded in 2005, Equatorial Palm Oil plc (EPO) is a crude palm oil company publicly listed on the Alternatives Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange in the United Kingdom [1].1 The company claims it holds a land bank of 169,000 hectares in Liberia [2]. On December 21, 2007, the Republic of Liberia and LIBINC Oil Palm Inc entered into a Concession Agreement. The Concession Area is situated within New Cess, Grand Bassa County [3]. The area covered by this agreement is 34,500 acres [4].

EPO says it has planted a total of 13,837 acres (5,600 hectares) of the 34,500 acres (13,961 hectares) it acquired under the concession agreement with the Republic of Liberia in 2007 [5]. Towards the end of 2012 and continued into 2013 [6], when EPO began clearing new areas to expand its plantation, affected communities came together to demand that the company stop the expansion.

The affected communities have engaged with the company, local government officials and legislators to express their objections. In disregard of the affected communities’ objection to its expansion, the company cleared and planted some of the communities land with oil palm in 2013. EPO then forcibly conducted a land survey without the consent of the affected communities. When communities attempted to halt the survey a paramilitary unit of the Liberia National Police, the Police Support Unit (PSU) was deployed into the area. Community members reported intimidation by company security staff and PSU officers. On September 18, community members were reportedly accosted and some were beaten by EPO and PSU forces as they walked to the county capital, Buchanan, to lodge a protest with authorities. Seventeen people were arrested, but were promptly released after the government’s County Attorney found there were no grounds for their detention.

On September 18, 2013 SDI supported citizens of 11 villages within Jogbahn Clan to file a complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) regarding EPO’s planned expansion. The complainants have asked that EPO should: (a) stop the land survey in Jogbahn Clan; (b) not clear anymore of their customary land; and (c) should not expand their oil palm plantation any further onto their customary land.

After months of negotiations and advocacy by community members, SDI, and international partners, the President extended an invitation to Jogbhan Clan representatives to meet with her in Monrovia.

Notes
1.    Equatorial Palm Oil Plc background information at: http://www.epoil.co.uk/aboutus.aspx [Accessed: 26.09.13]
2.    ibid
3.    The background information is a summary of the preamble of “AN ACT RATIFYING THE CONCESSION AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA AND LIBINC OIL PALM INC” published on August 6, 2008. Online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/151738375/An-Act-to-Ratify-Concession-Agreemen... [Accessed: 26.09.13]
4.    Section 3.1(c) of the Concession Agreement between the Republic of Liberia and LIBINC Oil Palm Inc, dated December 21, 2007
5.    Equatorial Palm Oil Plc, Placing and Admission to AIM, 2010, p 19. Available online at: http://www.epoil.co.uk/uploads/epo-admission-document.pdf [Accessed: 30.09.13]
6.    The clearing started in the last quarter of 2012. 

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