Liberia: Regional oil palm stakeholders call for community inclusion in natural resource governance
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh
Monrovia – Stakeholders attending a two-day regional dialogue on oil palm development in West Africa have called for the inclusion of local communities in oil palm development in the sub-region.
The regional dialogue on oil palm development was organized by the Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO), the global oil palm certification scheme, and the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) – a local nongovernmental organization.
The dialogue, held in Monrovia on Thursday, November 28 was part of a one-year pilot project launched by the two institutions aimed at mitigating conflicts between oil palm concessions and communities.
The event brought together participants from the region including Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and partners from the United Kingdom.
In a resolution adopted at the end of the event, participants gathered that some countries in the region are initiating reforms aimed at increasing financial flow through investments, and addressing poor governance and management of natural resources including land and forests.
However, they noted that despite these national efforts, the acquisition of land by oil palm companies is often characterized by lack of respect for the rights of local communities.
Although there has been progress in some countries over the last decade in enacting laws that support community rights, the implementation of these laws remain a challenge.
Other factors hindering progress in the sector, the participants noted, include inadequate legal framework, limited awareness within communities about their rights and weak law enforcement by national institutions.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO) was established in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
Although the RSPO may not be the complete solution for the protection of human rights and the environment, the group asserts it has been a useful tool for some communities in countries where governance is weak.
Following the end of the civil war, there have been huge oil palm concessions in Liberia. While these concessions are creating employment and contributing to the national economy, host communities often complained of either their land being forcefully taken away, or concessions not living up to their corporate social responsibilities.
This has led to conflicts between communities and concessions that sometimes result to violence.
Being cognizant of the situation, delegates at the roundtable dialogue, in their resolution called on governments of the region and the RSPO to among other things ensure “community rights should be at the center of natural resource governance and management, especially those related to land lease agreements; discourage further expansion of large scale mono-culture and that existing oil palm companies respect the collective rights of customary land owners and users and operate in a way that enables communities to secure benefits from their land resource.”
They also called for access to information through robust monitoring and reporting of oil palm companies’ compliance to national laws and international standards such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
In addition, they called for the rights of women including access and equal participation in natural resource management with specific focus on land to be respected.
Earlier in a keynote address, the team leader of Grow-Liberia, Yoquai V. Lavalaa Called on stakeholders including policy makers to stop what he called the lip-service to the agriculture sector.
Mr. Lavalaa said while it has been accepted that the agriculture sector is the best option for economic growth and poverty reduction, the attention and support needed has not been forthcoming.
He called for crafting and enacting a national agriculture strategy that will guide stakeholders and policy makers in making informed decisions aimed at strengthening the sector.
Earlier, SDI’s head of program, James Otto sated that the one-year project was organized amid increasing conflict between community and concessions, the lack of effective national agriculture law to address noncompliance to national and international standards, lack of knowledge and awareness at the community level on criterial and principles such as the RSPO.
Mr. Otto expressed excitement over SDI’s ability bring together a cross section of stakeholders from across the region to reflect and share knowledge on experiences acquired while implementing the pilot project over the course of the one year.