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