Liberian Scholar Cites Reasons for Country’s Extreme Poverty

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Mr. Budy (far right) at the high table with Mrs. Moore (middle), while Mr. Fallah looks on during the discussion.

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.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Budy’s research makes sense. Land grab by the government of Liberia has made the lives of all Liberians miserable, not just the very people whose centuries-old lands have been grabbed for large scale commercial use. For instance, if a group of poor people have been uprooted or displaced because of land grab by the government, local taxes are no longer paid, unemployment exists and illiteracy increases.

    Let’s take a look at the Gbolobo Oil Palm Company in Maryland county.
    The town of Gbo-lo-bo was a vibrant town for centuries. The men and women who lived in Gbolobo over the years had made large farms and cultivated their crops in a way their forebears had taught them. There was never any use of fertilizer because they knew about the climate of Liberia’s two seasons. But in the 1980s, a palm oil company came to Liberia and all of a sudden, the Gbolobo area was chosen as an ideal place to plant palm trees for oil production. Sooner or later, the production of palm oil went into full swing. Guess what? The net result of the giant palm oil company’s operation in the area of Gbolobo had caused the once thriving residents to have made unbearable decisions. For instance, smaller farms are now being made because the land on which the poor residents of Gbolobo had farmed has dwindled. Land grabbed by the government is the problem. Their hurt, pain and sorrow is permanent and irreversible.

    Unlearned Lesson By The Government:
    Although the residents of Gbolobo and other areas in Liberia where land grab has impacted the lives of poor people enormously, the Liberian government doesn’t seem to get it. You would think that the government would give a monetary incentive to land grab residents for at least a decade. Sadly, it’s something that’s never ever considered. Or to put it bluntly, the government of Liberia has been unable to learn a valuable lesson on the issue of land grab residents. What needs to be understood in this particular context is this: If the government pays for free air use of all lawmakers, (the government certainly does), it makes ample sense for the poor people whose lands have been commercialized to be given some kind of monetary compensation. Won’t you agree?

    Another area of the government’s failed due deligence is this: A demand for palm oil companies to construct a factory for oil processing. If an oil-processing factory is constructed on the soil of Liberia, a new technology will be made available to the Liberian people. Is that too difficult to ask? We now live in the 21st century. It is important to think innovatively as 21st century people.

    By the way, no Liberian has ever heard about how much money is made by palm oil companies and others who do business in Liberia. Never! In America, General Motors, Ford, Geico, Sears, Target and other fortune 500 companies will tell how much money has been raked in quarterly. It’s very, very strange that foreign companies that operate in Liberia never say how much money they make yearly. Who’s to be blamed? In my view, the government of Liberia. Won’t you agree?

    • Hney – I agree that land grabbing may be one contributing factor to poverty in the interior of the country but we must be very careful not to lay blame for poverty on a singular issue. Most of the lands we’re talking about are not legally owned by these tribes. They’re basically public land because the tribes often don’t have a deed for the land. Furthermore these tribes don’t need thousands of acres of land to do subsistence farming. However, they may have some land rights based on customary law but I’m not sure the tribe could prevail in court on any land claims against the government without a deed. With that said, I believe the government should be thoughtful when expropriating land to concession companies because you don’t want to make public policy that harms the local population. I think some of the land must be set aside for these tribes to farm and things like that but do these poor tribes need thousands of acres? I don’t think so. You also made a point about why concession companies don’t declare their financial information to the public, and I presume it is not a requirement in the concession agreement. In concluding, I believe the main reasons for pervasive poverty in the country is based on corruption, lack of good leadership, bad public policy, lack of decent education, poor healthcare, and the list goes on…

      • Did he take into account Ebola , the two wars in Liberia, malaria , one doctor for $13,000 people, mass migration from the farms to urban areas, decrease in demand for rubber and iron ore, foreigners extracting resources and diverting funds to other countries (China Lebanon Syria and India)?

  2. He has DISCOVERED: ????

    “Fidel C.T. Budy, a Liberian scholar residing in the United Kingdom (UK), has DISCOVERED reasons behind unending poverty in the country.”

    WOW SO THAT IS THE CURE …..STOP LAND GRABBING.? …. THIS IS A FARCICAL ABERRATION. they are saying that they know why Liberia is poor because of land grabbing? Please dont say it is so.

    • what about Corruption, greed, mismanagement of resources, disease, lack of medical resources . miseducation and a lack of education, tribalism, exploitation by foreigners. these are the causes of the extreme poverty and not necessarily LAND GRABBING.

      • I agree Mr. Howard but his research findings were almost clear to people in the village before the research was conducted. There is nothing wrong with his research. In fact, others can pick up where Dr. Buddy stopped. I also have problem with the sample size. However, I hope his findings will influence public policy for the good of the local people and the companies that operate in those areas.

  3. That’s what I always put everything thing together and refer it as FOREIGN MONOPOLY CAPITAL. Our policy makers never know how much any foreign company turn overs are. Our government are mere share holders in these firms. They (the companies) come out with cooked spread sheets, and convince our government to accept figures that were made up.
    How long will our people be subjected to such humiliation. No policy maker, or aspirant politician will ever speak of such issue.

    If the land is grabbed by state, and investment are made to benefit the people, productions are in the hands of the state and people, we can, at least measure progress. BF Guthrie, Firestone ( Bridgestone), Cavalla Rubber, to name a few, all came into being from massive land grabbed. The great grand children of those that once own and farmed those lands, are still been used to collect and store coagulated latex. The phrase, ‘drive away investors’ is what killing our people. If even the ‘investors’ come our people do not benefit. They, instead, are the victims. All because our governments cannot make good bargain, we are given the short end of the ‘stick’. The livelihoods of those poor Marylander are changed forever. Some of them have been reduced to subjects of plantation. When the palm productions owner decide to pack up and go, our people will have no alternatives, but become jobless. Once again, no land, no production, no economy might….the person is reduced to unpeople, in his/her own home.
    Let us start talking like policy makers.

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  5. Land grab may not be the reason for the poverty stricken situation in Liberia..Matter of fact the system of farming in Liberia has remained subsistence and more of traditional than mechanized. Infact,those few factory plantations around have been contributing to the employment of residents in those areas..thus contributing to factor income..labor which is wages..Liberia is a virgin place for Agriculture..There is an abundance of forest land all across the country..It is highly a problem to get one step ahead with the method of farming we have to mitigate challanges in that sector.Our poverty condition has its roots in massive corruption,misapplication of priorities,insensitivity of leaders to focus on low hanging fruits multipliers that could change the situation around and many more…

  6. Mr. Budy congratulations as you pursue your Ph.D. With that said I totally disagree with you that the reasons for the country’s extreme poverty are land grabbing.

    Spending three months in a small district and carrying out 30 to a 45 person face to face interview is not considered research findings to base such a pressing concern facing the country as extreme poverty and linked its cause land grabbing of a few hectares. Even if your so-called research of poverty was center around Sinjeh District or Bomi County as a whole, these farmers have never carried out mechanized farming. If farmers in Bomi county were carrying on mechanized agriculture on several hundreds of hectares and Sime Darby came and occupied that commercial farmland then I could agree that the local economy suffered a severe setback, but I would still disagree that it’s not the reason for the country’s extreme poverty.

    I did a research and feasibility study in Lofa, Bong, Bomi, Nimba counties, etc. where I spend several months and thousands of dollar for an agriculture project. What stood out while visiting farms, talking (interpreter) to hundreds of farmers and corporations in every county that I attended was the vast amount of untouched land for agriculture.

    Land grabbing is not a factor when the seriousness of extreme poverty is being discussed. Stop the nonsense.

    Just the Fact!

    • 45 people? R u crazy this is not research what you did was research ! this crap that Mr. Budy is forcing down one’s throat is something those white people in Europe will think is true but it is a lazy self serving piece of crap. Please change your sample size and use a community that is representative of all of the communities! If I were one of the professors I would deternine the research as HIGHLY FAULTED AND MISREPRESENTATIVE

  7. Aberystwyth University if you grant this fool a doctorate then your doctoral program is a total disgrace. He spent three months in ONE district which is not representative of the entire country! Did he take a statistics class?

    • I disagree in whole with Budy’s findings. Land grabbing can’t be the singular reason for the extreme hardship in rural Liberia.

      Many rural dwellers have abandoned farming for gold mining and other short term contracts with companies in their locals. Rural dwellers in almost all part of Liberia are abandoning their agrarian way of life for more reasons than what I mentioned.

  8. Phil,
    For some strange unknown reason, your rebuttal sometimes chokes me with laughter. One example was needed in my piece in order to make my point. I could have listed the land on which the old Firestone sits in the Pleebo area. The land of the Nyambo people, some of them being my people, was taken away from them in the 1920s. During that time, the poor uneducated people of Pleebo, had no legal papers. But the truth is that… that particular area was their land. That’s where their forebears had lived before 1847. Before the government of Liberia was formed, the Nyambo had no one to do legal papers with.

    Question: Since the poor folk did not have legal papers as your argument goes, why didn’t the governments of King and Barclay take Pleebo? Did the Pleebo residents have legal papers to occupy Pleebo? Or, I could have mentioned the land in the Harper area where the Sugar company once operated. Also, I could take an escapade all over Liberia to add a few more land grab areas.

    Remember also that a number of people from that area were forceably sent to (Equatorial Guinea) Fernadapo ….not sure of the spelling! While some of the poor Pleebo folk were away, their land was given, not sold to the Firestone company.
    Come on Phil, you are a knowledgeable guy. The government of Liberia has a moral obligation to treat its citizens fairly and equitably. If a particular parcel of land is chosen for the sole purpose of commercializing it on a grand scale, the original inhabitants must be cared for, monetary-compensation-wise. Won’t you agree?

    Lastly, were the poor people of Liberia, not just your and my county, ever cared for by the previous governments of Liberia? Not really. When Tubman needed electricity on his farm, he obtained current from Firestone by way of his bully pulpit. Okay, as electric poles were being erected from Firestone to his farm, there was never any consideration by Tubman for the poor Pleebo people to have one bulb shine in their town. The electrical wires ran from Firestone to Tubman’s farm over Pleebo. On this particular issue, Tubman did not show sensitivity. In fact that’s how the previous governments have mistreated their citizens, a typical example of black on black crime.

    Then the second point you attacked:
    Okay, let’s agree for purposes of this discussion that companies are not obliged to say how much money is made by them quarterly or yearly. Well, is it immoral or perfidious for foreign companies to inform the Liberians how things are going? Phil, there’s something murky right there! Companies that operate in Liberia should state how things go regardless of whether or not such agreements were reached during the discussion phase. If the NIC officials fail to discuss this very issue with potential investors, my God…. something is wrong! Why? Because the the Liberians have a right to know.
    What do you think Phil?

  9. I fully understand that Mr. Budy’s study has some limitations. For example, the sample size is not a representative sample and does not reflect an accurate picture of Liberia’s extreme poverty story. One can say that it was a micro-study focusing on a single District in Bomi County. He used ethnography, which suggests to me that the research was basically a qualitative study. I do not know whether he used a theory as some basis for his arguments.

    Notwithstanding, I applaud Mr. Budy for the initiative; the path to academic research is always construction. There is no social science research that is not subject to critique. instead of discrediting him, let’s be civil and provide the needed recommendations where need be. The subject matter of poverty is multidimensional and complex. Not even the World Bank and the rest of the Bretton Woods institutions have been able to clearly establish structural reasons for extreme poverty.
    Good start Mr. Budy, consider the views of your harsh and moderate critics as a challenge. There are different ways people provide feedback, I hope the comments made here would provide some form of feedback to improve your work.

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