Oil palm giant Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SPDL) has announced that it is observing a “self-imposed” moratorium on any new land clearing for oil palm production worldwide, including in Liberia.
The company said its moratorium was discussed with the Government of Liberia and also with the affected communities, namely the Zodua Clan, Grand Cape Mount County.
“The people of Zodua have good relationship with Sime Darby and we hope that Sime Darby will continue its operations,” said Boakai Kormah, chairman of Zodua Land Committee.
The company and government representatives have met with Zodua leaders on several occasions and explained the rationale of the moratorium. Prior to the ‘stop work order,’ SDPL had already cleared 350 hectares (ha) (864.87 acres) of the concession area. To maintain 120 jobs for Zodua residents, the company has been organizing work programs for them such as hoeing, stacking and planting on 122 ha of land that has been already cleared.
At the international level, the company said working along with a group of other major palm oil companies, it is undertaking a high carbon stock (HCS) study to determine which forested area cannot be cleared beyond primary forests. The study, according to them, will also consider Liberia’s right to develop land that will help to assist the economy and its people. The study is being currently conducted by a group of world renowned scientists and is due to be completed at the end of 2015.
The oil palm plantation had to roll back some of its operations following the outbreak of the devastating Ebola virus disease (EVD) more than six months ago. But it, however, was able to keep 2,800 local workers, who continue to receive benefits, including subsidized food and free healthcare.
“Liberia is going through a very difficult time and SDPL made the decision to continue operations and maintain local staff strength despite scaling back. Hopefully we will be free of Ebola this year and full operations can resume. Sime Darby wants to continue with its plans as a long term investor,” said Roslin Azmy Hassan, Head of Operations for SDPL.
New Ebola cases have been falling in Liberia and so far, Nigeria and Mali have been declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization (WHO).
For SDPL, another important consideration for resuming full-scale operation is to uphold the company’s “high” social and environmental standards, including protection of High Carbon Stock (HCS) area as an additional environmental yardstick.
The last 12 months have been difficult for the country due to unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus.
SDPL had been working closely with local communities, civil society organizations, and Ebola treatment units (ETUs) to provide much needed food, fuel, chlorine and other medical supplies. “Strict precautionary measures were introduced to guard SDPL employees from contracting the virus,” the company said in a statement.
Its clinic was one of the few that were open to the public, free of charge, during the peak of the Ebola outbreak. And it is still opened to the public. SDPL has also equipped two of its vehicles to serve as ambulances to transport people suspected of Ebola.
Furthermore, the company established a partnership with the Liberian National Red Cross and donated US$157,000 in support of their programs in Cape Mount and Bomi Counties. The company has also donated 5.7 million medical gloves worth several thousand US dollars to the Government of Liberia.