A forest of obstacles for Liberia’s palm oil industry

Commercial pressures, community expectations and conservation demands are weighing on Liberia’s palm oil industry

Community leaders say they want development, but they want to be respected as well in Gaya Hill, Bomi County. Picture: Lucinda Rouse

In parts of rural western Liberia, gated entrances manned by private security guards divide red dirt tracks from the main road. Behind them are neat rows of squat palm trees belonging to Sime Darby Plantation, one of the world’s biggest palm oil producers. The tracks meander through the plantations, arriving at settlements that predate the arrival of the company. These villages now find themselves hemmed in by oil palm trees, which produce bunches of shiny, reddish fruit containing the sought-after oil.

Even the most basic amenities, such as functioning hand pumps for drawing water, are often lacking here. Most of the inhabitants eke out a living through subsistence farming, growing crops such as cassava and hot pepper or producing charcoal. A few lucky ones work as labourers or security guards on the plantation.

But the number of employees is dwindling as Malaysia-based Sime Darby prepares to leave Liberia, just a decade into a 63-year concession agreement with the government to produce palm oil for export.

“Sime Darby deceived us,” says community leader Gbally Boimah in Gaya Hill, a town within Sime Darby’s plantation in Bomi County. “They used us to plant for them and then just left us. They told us we would be with them for 63 years.”

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About Cholo Brooks 12532 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.