Launches bridging strategies
The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), along with other stakeholders, has identified communication gaps as an impediment to cordial relations that should exist between concessionaires and affected communities.
Therefore, the entity has launched a project aimed at bridging the gap in order to establish effective communication and understanding between the two parties.
The project, titled “Improving Communication and Understanding of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Standard and Mechanisms, and Their Application in the Country and at the Sub-Regional Level,” was launched on January 15, 2019, in Monrovia. It seeks to collaborate with the RSPO in order to improve communication among stakeholders in the oil palm sector, to establish understanding and cooperation.
To do this, SDI’s Coordinator Nora Bowier said that the project, following the launch of the forest watchdog, will conduct a two-day training activity for communities and civil society organizations (CSOs) that are stakeholders to the project.
According to other SDI officials, including Richard Sam, the many instances of conflict in concession areas come not because citizens are resistant to operations of concessionaires or concessionaires are doing wrong, but because what the locals need to know about the concession is not explained to them in an ideal manner.
Sam, in a power point presentation, said the 9-month project is expected to collaborate with stakeholders of the RSPO in order to improve communication and understanding that will reduce tension in concession areas and yield the needed benefit for all stakeholders.
National Bureau of Concession (NBC) executive director Gregory Coleman noted that expectations of community dwellers about concession is high; and therefore concessions should follow the RSPO’s regulations and principles in order to create the environment that those locals will benefit from activities of concessionaires.
Coleman said the NBC is under obligation by virtue of its mandate to oversee activities of concessionaires in terms of environmental impact, respecting protective areas, and ensuring that affected communities wherein concessions operate benefit.
He added that land tenure policy is also part of activities that the NBC oversees, and that it is also there to protect concessionaires.
He urged oil palm companies under the RSPO to empower communities within which they operate, not just by giving handouts but implementing development which will be sustainable and will make an impact on the greater number of people in the community.
The RSPO with which the SDI collaborates to implement the project, is a body of oil palm producing companies and CSOs that was established in 2004, with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
It has policy and regulations in place in order to guide member concessions that subscribe to it; it certificates an oil palm producing company that complies with policies.
The RSPO has been active in Liberia over the past years, because it is one country in which large oil palm companies have come to invest. Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), Sime Darby and the Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) are prominent among companies and individual farms operating in the country.
RSPO Technical Manager for Africa Elikplim Dziwormu Agbitor also observes that there are three areas causing problems in Liberia; namely, communication, land rights and participation.
He said because of poor communication, concessionaires and communities do not understand one another, something he noted causes participation to be poor.
He said contentions arising over land rights has also been a serious problem, thereby bringing accusations and defenses from both parties (concessionaire and community). He however expressed the hope that conflict over land ownership will be resolved as the Land Right Act is being passed by the legislature.
One of the oil palm companies that has experienced a number of confrontations with local residents is the GVL in Sinoe and Grand Kru counties in the south-east.
GVL has been accused of encroaching on protected forest and shrines preserved by the locals, something which the company has denied.
Dr. Michael Abedi-Lartey, GVL General Manager for Sustainability, conceded that the communication process and attitude associated can show bias, which he said the pilot project should take into consideration as it is implemented.
On concern about withdrawal of GVL from the RSPO, Dr. Abedi-Lartey said the company did not withdraw but put in for voluntary suspension, because so much attack was coming against them that they did not have the space of time to resolve issues.
He argued that joining the RSPO was voluntary as required by the policy; since that is the case, they were also asking for voluntary suspension.