The Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI), a civil society organization, recently concluded a one-day oil palm stakeholders meeting to enhance information sharing among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and affected oil palm communities in six of the 15 counties.
SDI works to transform the decision-making process relative to natural resources and promote equity in the sharing of benefits derived from natural resource exploitation in the country.
The conference was intended for locals to assess compliance to national and international laws, as well as best practices of UN Business and Human Rights principles.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a set of guidelines for States, and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.
The event, which was held on Friday, November 22, 2019, is a pilot project being supported by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-governmental organization, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was established in April 2004 to promote the growth, and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
The project, entitled, “Improving Communication and Understanding of the RSPO Standards and Mechanisms, and their Applications in Liberia and West Africa Level”, runs for one year, and is expected to phase-out in December 2019.
The oil palm stakeholders brought together more than 15 participants from Sinoe, Maryland, Grand Kru, River Cess, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Montserrado counties.
SDI Project Manager, Richard N. Sam, informed participants that the project is to create platforms at the national level to train rights-based NGOs, and communities affected by Oil palm plantations on how to effectively use the (RSPO) standards and mechanisms; and how to effectively engage with the RSPO so that their concerns and needs are fully adhered to.
Sam said it was also important to share experiences among NGOs, affected communities residents, and regional partners to increase the pool of actors working to bridge the existing gaps between local communities, and oil palm companies.
He said that the organization has been working with national, and international service providers to train NGOs and communities on how to effectively use and contribute to the RSPO standards and mechanisms.
Among the issues raised at the meeting was palm theft, remapping or survey of the land, burning of palm oil on community land, and safe drinking water. The issues of palm theft were most high on the agenda, which many participants said has become a national issue that needs serious attention from the government.
Amos H. Gadeh, secretary, Reliable Partnership of Oil Palm Affected Communities (REPOPAC) in Maryland County, said that the lack of proper dissemination of information to the communities has been one of the major challenges in the oil palm sector in the county.
J. Flahn Nyema, a participant from Grand Kru County, called on the government to take the issue of palm theft seriously as it has become a threat to the oil palm sector, something which, according to him, undermines the growth and development of the sector.
Edward G. Wingbah, Assistant Manager for County Coordination at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stressed the significance of sharing information. “It helps us discuss issues relating to the oil palm sector, which Liberia depends on for foreign exchange.”
Cyrus Cooper, a participant from Bomi Civil Society Council (BCSC), said the meeting broadened his understanding of Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP), and other actors on how to effectively engage concessionaires on best and responsible investment practices to improve concessions benefits for concession and host communities.
SDI, he said, has enhanced the skills and capacity of relevant actors, and stakeholders in applying and understanding communication strategies’ in the implementation of the RSPO standard protocols.
He stressed the need to share information through media engagements and town hall meetings as some of the ultimate ways of communicating lessons learnt at the end of every meeting.