By Jean Pierr Gonani
Africans were blessed by creation with rich soil and fertile lands that have provided them with beautiful and life-saving forests that has attracted the global markets and by extension, western industries interested in the massive production of furnitures and many wood related products for universal use.
All along, Africans have worked and tilled their respective lands to produce varieties of food crops to feed and sustain themselves thereby ensuring food security and supplying the markets through trade. It instilled some degree of self-reliance and independence far back before ‘economic imperialism’ by the International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) that stalled the vigilant quest of Africans’ persistent drive to utilize lands imbued with rich soil and attractive forests.
Soon the INGOs’ ‘Cold War’ for Africa’s lands unleashed a psychological scheme by providing funding for Africans to shy away from working their own rich lands and forests under the rubric of preserving the forests to prevent deforestation which could result in ecological disaster.
However, what has been mirrored behind this grand scheme financed by some of their associate governments from Scandinavian countries as well as Europe clearly spell that while the custodians of the lands and forests caved in to the psychological and cash-driven scheme; they sunk gradually into abject poverty and was forced adapt to a dependency syndrome.
They are solely relying on the cash provided through the psychological scheme wherein their (INGOs) sponsored home-based government farmers continue to grow and flood the African markets with soybeans. All this while Africans confronted with hunger, disgracefully form long queues for handouts. Not only that, many of these companies take raw materials, process it and later send it back for consumption at a heavy cost. The INGOs do not say much about this, but only when it comes to oil palm, they shout the loudest noise.
Clear examples of this are telling land owners not to cut down forest to plant crops of their choice. Some abide by that and live with deep hunger as they ‘worship’ the land. But interestingly, many of the land owners are beginning to understand now that the NGOs and INGOs do not have any sustaining remedy to solve their long term problems. In recent times, many land owners have seen that oil palm is the way to follow due to its sustainability and ever improving role in the agriculture sector.
OIL palm origin:
Historically, oil palm evolved in West Africa but research have said that it took root in Southeast Asia. It is helping some countries in Aecia, like Gabon, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and others. But these companies have said they want to improve the origin of oil palm; they are constantly coming under attacks by various environmental groups.
“For each time we intend to develop oil palm in some African countries, the more we get attack by NGOs and INGOs. Every responsible oil palm company does not clear all land in the communities. They leave places for the people to go and farm, plant crops and carry out fishing among others,” an official of an oil palm company remarked recently.
What makes many Africans to think twice and becoming unhappy is the level of poverty which has beset them while their forest remain ‘protected’ due to anti oil palm advocacy by NGOs and INGOs. Oil palm is a vitamin –rich oil which is used in food, soap,, tapping the trunks for palm wine that is distilled into medicinal alcohol and using biomass for green power generation.
In the past, Liberia benefited a lot from its land bank. For instance, when some of Liberia’s exportable materials such as iron ore, rubber, timber, gold and diamond prices were high on world market, many NGOS were not keen on such terminologies as land grab nor forest protection. Only in recent times that they became vocal.
Protecting the forest and go hungry?
So, what comes to mind is why would people protect or ‘worship’ forests and communities remain in abject poverty? In 2014, Liberia and Norway signed a US $150 million REDD+ agreement with the aim of forming a strong partnership to help contribute to the effectiveness of local forest monitoring systems and increase ownership and sustainability. The agreement was signed with the hope that part of the funds would help affected communities. That is not the case today.
“I think they want to continue to make us slaves on our own continent for centuries. When many of us accept the little cash to preserve the forest and sign MOU with us, in the long run, they will use that forest to do anything they wish to do. There would be no voice over our forest against them. They would have paid little money to us,” A farmer in Liberia once said it at a forum in 2013.
With the new wave of Africa industrialization, punctuated by high level of dividend, many forest owners in Africa mainly, are becoming to realize it is about time to accept and develop the soil with oil palm.
The forests have indeed formed a pivotal segment of the people’s livelihood upon being developed, but conversely, it is grimly pathetic that with so much rich lands, Africans remain massive consumers of western planted and soybeans amidst INGOs’ imposed restriction on fertile lands for few dollars which is now unattended to.
With such memorandum of understanding (MOU) in full swing, while the people are barred from venturing with the land and forest until the expiration of the cash-backed MOU, and as the forests remain undeveloped runners of the INGOs continue to enrich themselves and enjoy advancing their experimental spree in Africa.
Also, some people have scolded the INGOs cash-inspired exercise as a tactical maneuver packaged in another form of land grab colonization, but this time putting the people under the impression that it is better and safer that they keep away from engaging their fertile lands in order to maintain a long lasting secured environment while on the flip side, the western soybeans continue to railroad the African markets at the debilitating expense of the Africans now pinned down by the passive tenets enshrined in the cash-driven MOU that remains fully binding.
In Ghana, it was reported in the media that some locals who have been ‘brain washed’ by both local and INGOs to reject oil palm and preserve the forest, did not take it kindly to the lecture.
One of them asked; “how do we sustain ourselves with vast land here not developed while we go hungry?” That the forest will become their ‘gods’ so that every time they wake up, they will admire it with hunger.
Recently a new narrative article published in Front page Africa wrote how residents in Kpalan, Grand Cape Mount county, western Liberia hope had been dashed after Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) had promised to provide alternatives for their forest.
That REDD+ promised them sustainable livelihood if they would protect the natural forest and water life. It quoted villagers as saying: REDD+ assured them that if they stopped hunting and fishing in the protected area, they would be provided with a legal, alternate means of making a living. But nine months after those promises were made, they say REDD+ disappeared, dashing their hopes.
“We were happy for the project because it was going to provide job opportunities for 52 of us who were supposed to be working on this project. But right now, we are feeling disappointed because our hopes that were so high, that we even stopped killing wild animals, but yet we have not seen them,” says Emmanuel Sherman, one of the villagers.
Other villagers told the reporter that REDD+ also did not only promise the cassava mill, but also promised to give their women microloan and give them livestock to raise and sell. But they are not feeling good because since last September REDD+ promised them, they cannot hear anything from them, David Davis, who was appointed chairman of the community committee on the cassava mill.
“We just need someone to come to our aid, because the rain is almost here,” he says. “If the raining season meets the cassava not harvested we will not even (be able to make) half of the 706 bags of farina, because the water will make the cassava watery and it will be of no use,” Emmanuel Sherman, one of the community dwellers said.
Now, what started on a good note, is changing into words of words. Field agents working on the same projects denied it.
“We did not promise them anything but just told them to preserve nature and maybe someday an NGO would see their efforts and help them,” he said. “We do not have anything to give because we are only engaged in creating awareness in benefit sharing in other communities,” Lawrance A. Bondo , director of Community Development Initiative, a group that worked for REDD+ told the paper.
This was not the case when the country’s resources were taken. For instance, when the country was exporting some of its resources such as timber, rubber, iron ore, gold and diamond, the narrative was different. Huge timbers were shipped to other parts of the world. Many INGOs were not putting the light to them in the 1970s.
Take for example, LAMCO, a Liberian, Swedish and American ore company played a major role in the industry. Not much was heard on protecting the land. Anyway, the development at that time in LAMCO was tremendous, perhaps was the main reason there were no objections to the land acquisitions.
“There was no man or soul that could rise up and speak against LAMCO. They were given the time to develop. After development, then followed human development and the dividends came. The case is different today. NGOs and INGOs do not even allow the companies to start the process and they can jump on them like ‘dogs’ jumping on animal,” T. Samuel Wureh, a resident of Sinoe County said.
One of the largest oil palm companies in Liberia, GVL has been facing series of challenges which are not different from other concession areas in the same sector. This was made evident by its former director, David Rothsfild to the Financial Times some years ago.
He admitted that the investment has been more difficult than the company expected when it started operations a little over five years ago. He attributed some of them to: often woeful infrastructure and dollar-based economy, tricky land rights issues, a dependency culture that pervades much of society and environmental problems that have to be worked through.
“But we’re optimistic about the country,” he was quoted at the time. It’s complex, costly and risky but those with a long-term and resilient business should be ok. When the commodity cycle turns, Liberia will be well placed,” he was further quoted.
In Firestone, the largest rubber company by land size in the world, is facing similar problems from both local and international NGOS. It has not been able to expand due series of challenges. “We have a good plan for the plantation. But each time the company intends to make move, you see various NGOS come out to slam it without any factual stories. Who will suffer in the end? It will be the locals. Show me where you have seen NGOS providing jobs in the thousand for communities when companies pull out,” one resident of Firestone remarked.
Due to this, and other factors, Firestone carried out redundancy of over 300 employees. The same has been done by MNG gold, the Turkish gold mining company. Other companies have done same and more to carry out redundancy.
“This is having serious effect on us and the economy. It is not the companies. We think the NGOS need to work in the interest of the communities and the companies,” Old man Faya, a long time tapper of Firestone said.
The same story is with Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL) which has over 220,000 hectors of land. It has not been able to develop half of the land.
Alexander K. Momolu, an environmentalist said, “We need to protect the forest. But equally so, the people need to survive. All that is needed, is for NGOS to help work with these companies in ensuring that the right things are done for the benefit of everyone. But if you tell them to leave the forest, where the locals depend on for sustainability and do not give any alternative, then you make the same locals vulnerable.’
“The same goes to Firestone, GVL, SDPL and all the other companies in the country. Sorry to say that many of these NGOS only work to please their donors at the detriment of locals. Once they submit report and their donors are happy and get their next funds, they relax.”
Alphonso Henries, head of a local CSO which has been advocating for a land reform in Liberia says, “we are happy for the land rights act to be passed. We think the communities need to benefit. Equally, the government needs to look at its activities with investment. Do not take money from investor under the pretense that you have land to give them. At the end, you do not have land to give. So, I feel for some of these companies that have paid huge sums of money to government without expanding.”
It is about time that Africa starts to think twice about real development of its forest in a more sustainable way.