Women Group Opposes Expansion of Mano Oil Palm Plantation in Western Liberia

The Western Region Women Network Association (WRWNA), a mother organization of women advocacy organizations in western Liberia Wednesday September 21, 2022 registered its opposition to the expansion of Mano Oil Palm Plantation in the region.

Mano Oil Palm Plantation is currently operating 10,000 hectares of oil palm planted by Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL). The company bought the plantation from SDPL who earlier signed a 63-year concession agreement with the Liberian Government in 2009 to plant 220,000 hectares of palm trees in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties respectively.

However, the presence of the oil palm giant in the region has had some adverse effects on the lives of the people; especially customary communities. They continue to complain of water, chemical and air pollutions, lack of farmlands, harassments with women and girls usually at the disadvantage end.

On Wednesday September 21, 2022, the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations, the women who marched on the main street in Klay, Bomi County presented their petition to authorities of the county.

In a statement read by Madam Frances K. Smith, the women said “In one voice, we demand and shout, “Stop the Expansion of Monoculture Tree Plantations.”

They acknowledged the economic benefits associated with Oil Palm and how it profits the state and Oil Palm plantation owners, but said the cultivation of oil palm can lead to environmental degradation, risks, land grabs, inequalities in ownership of resources and sharing of benefits, land conflicts, poor labor conditions, and loss of biodiversity, destruction of water sources, and livelihood lost for local communities.

In a nine count petition, the aggrieved women called on the Liberian Government and Mano Oil Palm to halt the expansion because it takes away customary people’s land.

“It has taken away the lands from our communities and the company’s action is increasing poverty for our communities. Our land is our heritage, please leave it alone. Note that the struggle against oil palm plantation expansion is a struggle for all. Women are also owners of the land and our voices must be heard and actions taken,” they lamented.

They also said “Let’s collectively work to stop the expansion because it is destroying our forests. Stop the destruction of our remaining forest and biodiversity. Our land had been taken away and we are now covering distances just to harvest firewood because our communities are cleared by the company. Today, there is nothing left for our livelihood activities and as a result, our communities are completely vulnerable and we are now food insecure. There had been reported sexual Exploitation, Abuse and harassment (SEAH) as a result of the harsh conditions women and girls find themselves in. Despite the clearing of our farmlands, women and girls continue to work and live in hash environment around oil palm concessions in Liberia.”

Receiving the petition on behalf of the Superintendent of Bomi County, the District Commissioner of Klay District, Mr. Momo P. Seh said “This document shows that something is going on and affecting the women and you have presented your plights to your leaders. We are here in the plantations and know what going on. The place you just mentioned and other places, you go there nowhere to break wood and when you don’t find areas to make gardens, we feel it, but the women feel it more because they controlling the children at home. We will extend this petition to the Superintendent of this county including the lawmakers.”

Also speaking, the Gender Coordinator of Bomi County, Madam Rose N. Goll added “This document is on my heart because I don’t compromise women issues. Women had been marginalized over the years and we say no today. We will push your plights to the Superintendent and other authorities. Your sisters that are sitting behind the house, they will know you fighting for them. We cannot be here the plantation right behind us and women cannot get their rights and benefits.”

At the same time, the Program Assistant of the Community Rights & Corporate Governance Program (CR&CGP) at the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Mr. Sampson Williams expressed his gratitude for the unity existing among the women in the western region that they are now speaking with one voice on issues affecting them.

“These are things that the women had been complaining about throughout. Today in some of the communities, nowhere to fetch firewood, nowhere to plant cassava, water sources destroyed and these are issues affecting the people. The message was clear today and I believe that it will reach everyone. Some of the women are directly from the affected communities and the management of Mano Oil Palm Plantation will be shocked because they think they have authority to take disadvantage over the already poverty stricken citizens. Hearing the women themselves coming together to speak on issues affecting them, they [Mano Oil Palm] will hear it.”

Also speaking, the Gender Focal Person at SDI, Madam Nornor Bee said “We women are the most affected people when it comes to monoculture expansion and it is good for their voices to be heard. We all need to continuously push for government to implement what were written in the petition statement. The government should hold these companies accountable because the expansion also undermines government’s efforts by increasing poverty and women are the most affected group.”

Ma Yamah Weaver, 54years old, from Bomi County who once experienced the existence of the famous Guthrie Rubber Plantation said “I knew this will happen because they are planting and no way for our people to make garden, fetch firewood, to get herbs, fishing, no place to pass water for women [bathroom]. We are so curious because I saw it at Guthrie and it is happening today again. So, I am happy today for this celebration”

Joining was Ms. Weyatta Passawe, 39years old, citizen of Wilior, Grand Cape Mount County, “Even backyard garden no way for us today because of the plantation. It is very difficult for us and we are grateful to be celebrating this day. It is not easy for woman alone to struggle with children.”

September 21st every year is the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations. Unlike others, this Day was not created by the United Nations (UN) or by governments. The Day was created in 2004 by rural communities, gathered in the Brazilian hinterland, to denounce and shed light on the impacts of monoculture tree plantations on their territories, and affirm their determination to resist such plantations and take back their territories from the hands of corporations.

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