Fidel C.T. Budy, a Liberian scholar residing in the United Kingdom (UK), has discovered reasons behind unending poverty in the country.
Budy, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) candidate in human geography at Aberystwyth University in the UK, has concluded a research for Global-Rural Project (GRP) in Sinjeh District, Bomi County. Budy authenticated that many rural people in communities in the district where there are concession companies lack access to land for productive farming, and are challenged by the growing demands of the state of the economy.
While presenting his findings on the impact of “land grabbing” on livelihoods in Monrovia recently, Budy said land grabbing has led to skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities, and very limited alternative measures are left for the local population to source their day to day social and economic needs.
“I found out that people in Sinjeh and its environs where the Malaysian oil giant, Sime Darby Palm Oil Company, is operating are pushed faraway from their own villages to find adequate land for subsistence farming,” Mr. Budy said.
He said from the research he has realized that powers, which were once in the hands of the indigenous communities to determine how their lands should be used, have completely been eroded and are now centralized at the desks of the government.
“From research, we have seen the impact of land grabbing on the given self-identity of Sinjeh residents as being poor, because there is consistent characterization of Sinjeh as backward, as a result of lack of basic amenities,” Budy said in his presentation to the consensual agreement of the audience.
He said many customary practices, such as the traditional education offered through the Poro and Sande societies, as well as land rights for women, are all wearing away as a result of limited access to land.
“The global focus on land grabbing by the media and civil society contributed to a focus of indigenous land rights globally, which led to conversations in the country about customary land rights. It is our hope that the Land Rights Act signed into law by President George Weah in September should reverse some of the negative impacts of land grabbing on the livelihoods of Sinjeh residents and others in other concession areas,” Budy said.
He said rural communities are now experiencing changes to landscape by the construction of schools, hand pumps, and modern housing units that have jobs for a few who probably have skills or are physically fit to labor on plantations.
Mr. Budy told his audience that he employed an ethnographic approach to his research, conducting face-to-face interviews with 30 persons, including additional 15 persons.
He said he spent three months in the district between April and June 2017 as part of his research.
“The ages of those I interviewed varied, with some being well advanced in years and with a good knowledge of experiences of land grabbing in the district for decades,” he noted.
ActionAid-Liberia Executive Director, Madam Laksmi Moore, one of the panel of discussants, said she was highly impressed by the findings from Mr. Budy’s research.
“Thank you so much for the presentation. It is our wish that this discussion goes beyond this room. I believe that my office, with support from government and other partners, can support this dialogue at universities and other public facilities,” she said.
According to Moore, people’s participation in governance should not be merely reduced to votes casting for leaders during elections, but people must have as many possible spaces as possible to dialogue on issues affecting them and steps they think should be taken to help mitigate the trending challenges.
Samwar Fallah, a panelist representing the Sime Darby Concession Company, blames the way the concession agreement was entered into between the management and the government as one of the reasons for the many challenges at concession areas.
“Our government is fond of signing huge contracts or agreements with concession companies, without getting to the actual areas they want those companies to operate upon starting their businesses,” Fallah said.
He said in the case of Sime Darby, several hundred hectares are said to be in the agreement signed with the government, but up to present not even 10 percent of the land promised the company is operational.
“Right now the company is paying for some land from the locals, because they argued that their land was not in the deal which the government signed with the company,” Mr. Fallah said.