LIBERIA: Dutch, French Development Banks visit Liberia to address Concerns from Communities and Environmental Organizations

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Dutch development bank FMO and French development bank Proparco have investments in Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) through its owner SIFCA in Ivory Coast. Wilmar, one of the largest palm oil companies in the world, is one of the main shareholders.

The banks recently visited the operation areas of Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) in southeastern Liberia from 10 to 15 March 2024 after the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and Milieudefensie raised alarm about social and environmental harms in the plantation in their February 2023 report titled: “Social and Environmental Impacts of Maryland Oil Palm Plantations in Liberia.”
During meetings with the affected communities on March 11 & 12, 2024, the communities expressed disappointments in MOPP and the banks for what they called ‘increase in poverty instead of poverty alleviation’
Community members shared information on the violations of their rights, and other concerns. These include lack of access to their Community Development Fund in the tone of US$108,000.00, disregard of MOU signed with Oil Palm farmers, the company’s failure to pay oil farmers since September 2023 and violations of labor rights.
The CDF committee said the company owes the affected communities US$264,000 for the past six years.
“We are facing problems with the company. Our proposals for development projects are not honored by the company especially the Chief Finance Officer (CFO). This is stalling development in our communities. Currently we have the amount of US$108, 673. 54 in our account. We agreed to build an elementary school in Gbolobo, but the company has denied us access to our money. We don’t have any formal agreement with the company. The MOPP CFO is one of the signatories and has been stalling everything in getting our money. A bridge was built in Gbeken by the company and they didn’t consult us, but they are claiming the money is from our account,” Amos D. Kuoh of the CDF committee lamented during the meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Madam Chris D. Walker, President of Pleebo-Sodoken Rural Women lamented that there are no drugs in the various clinics and the company is involved in lots of bad things.
“If the company is not able to operate here, they should pack and leave our communities, but if they don’t do the right things and continue to treat us like this, we will continue with our troubles,” Madam Walker said during the meeting.
Amos H. Gadeh, Speaker of the Concerned Movement for Affected Communities of MOPP said “We have had series of road blocks, but MOPP continues to do wrong things. The company is bringing hardship daily. Violating human rights, destroying sacred and grave sites and has not constructed schools and health centers. We want MOU or else we will not be at peace.”
For their part, the Oil Palm Farmers on MOPP expressed disappointment in the company for failing to honor the MOU it signed with them.
“They had agreed to provide technical supervision, but didn’t do that. They didn’t even protect the farms from animals as agreed. MOPP disappointed us by not even providing chemicals. According to our agreement, MOPP should have started buying our Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB) after three years. They decided to pay US$150.00 per tonnes including all expenses; although our expectation was US$250.00,” Kwia Nelson, President of the Oil Palm Farmers said.
Nelson further said “Unfortunately, they haven’t paid our money since September 2023. According to them, their headquarters in Ivory Coast is saying no money yet.”
The intent of the company was to lift Liberians out of poverty, but Nelson said they have become poorer than before. “We have the farm, but no market.”
Another farmer, Brooks Wallace termed the visit of the FMO Team as a complete “waste of their precious time”
“This is not the first team coming from the bank to us and nothing has happened. I think that our being here is just another waste of time. Your presence here will not make any impact and your departure can even make things worse for us here as farmers. We are losing on a daily basis. The company is not helping us,” he said.
For his part, D. Friday Landford, the Chief Elder of Hudukuki community said MOPP has been using their land for nine years with no benefits. He said their crops were counted and destroyed with no funds given to them.
“They destroyed our streams used for drinking water, sacred and gravesites destroyed for palm, they promised to give US$5.00 per hectares, but money not forthcoming,” the chief elder said.
Saturday Wilson of Gewloken and Berseken, two of the affected communities recounted that their land was forcibly taken by MOPP.
Wilson said “17 of us were arrested and jailed in 2016 for our own land. MOPP destroyed our crops with nothing given to us.”
“No areas here for us again. Our women and girls can walk four hours for firewood to cook. We live here as prisoners on our own land. Our gravesites destroyed. No food. All water streams destroyed by MOPP,” he said.
Wilson lamented “If we have ways, we will tell God to just take our lives because we are prisoners here. No respect for the communities. They violate our rights daily. The presence of MOPP here is regrettable for us. We were never consulted of its arrival.”
Also speaking, Ma Cecelia Wah, Chairlady of the communities said “We are regretting over the presence of MOPP in our communities. Following your departure, we want to see changes and it shouldn’t be the same.”
FMO in response assured the aggrieved communities that they attach serious importance to their concerns and issues raised will be communicated properly.
The bank said these concerns are serious and they will make sure MOPP meets up with legal requirements and regulatory framework and guidelines as well as World Bank standards.
According to them, they will make sure MOPP complies to these guidelines; saying they take these concerns seriously because they are in relationship with SIFCA/MOPP until they repay the loan given to them.
According to them, they don’t necessarily plan to give another fund to MOPP until they see their roles in addressing these concerns.
It can be recalled SDI and Milieudefensie in February 2023 launched a report titled: “Social and Environmental Impacts of Maryland Oil Palm Plantations in Liberia.”
In the report, SDI and Milieudefensie documented severe cases of criminalization of community members, intimidation and violence, land grabbing, pollution, and destruction of valuable nature.
Community testimonies and related documents painted a bleak picture of life and work in the plantation area. Several communities have resisted the expansion of the plantation on their customary lands ever since MOPP entered the area in 2011.
In the report, SDI and Milieudefensie demanded that Wilmar, the Dutch (FMO), African (AfDB) development banks as well as other international financiers take the community grievances seriously, acknowledge the violations of their corporate policies and bring their investments in line with the OECD and UN guidelines on business and human rights.
Sampson Williams from SDI says: ‘It is high time that Development Banks deliver real development to affected communities and workers. The best way forward is to start financing agro-ecology and community forest management and transition away from the harmful monoculture plantations that only bring benefits to foreign ownership and investors and not to Liberians. This transition will improve food sovereignty and promote community rights.’
The MOPP 2011 concession agreement includes 8,800 hectares for industrial palm oil plantations and 6,400 hectares of out grower plantations. MOPP rehabilitated the Decoris Oil Palm Company plantations that were abandoned in 1990 due to the onset of Liberia’s civil war. MOPP went beyond that to also plant on the abandoned Libsuco sugar cane plantation and community customary lands as well as deeded lands.
MOPP is owned by SIFCA, a leading Ivorian Agribusiness group. Wilmar owns part of this group and its refinery, where MOPP products are refined. Wilmar is one of the largest Agri-businesses in the world and receives finance from international banks such as HSBC.

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