Stop the GVL Illegal Destruction of Liberia’s Forest Habitat

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In its July 27, 2016 edition, the Daily observer carried a front-page story with headlines that read “Liberia’s Rain forests in Danger”. In that article the Daily Observer quoting the Sustainable Development institute (SDI) warned that the country’s forests were under threat from agricultural concessions such as Sime Darby and Golden Verroleum Liberia.

The SDI maintained that the government of Liberia at the time was considering the granting of permits to agricultural concessions to carryout logging activities within their concession areas. According to the SDI the granting of permits to engage in such activities would see the illegal expansion of these concessions well beyond their controversial limits. The SDI noted that this practice which is called Conversion/Timber logging, has the potential to destroy the country’s remaining rain forests.

The SDI at the time disclosed that the FDA had developed regulations that would enable large-scale timber extraction in agricultural concession areas for export, which it believed would exacerbate the threats from the oil palm sector. Moreover, the SDI disclosed that vast tracts of land were at stake with the two companies controlling more than 600,000 hectares of land.

The Forestry Development Authority in its response however, denied that it had developed such regulations intended to grant agricultural concessions the right to harvest timber from within their concession areas. But the Golden Verroleum Liberia(GVL), at the time refuted the SDI report saying its intent was to help communities make use of the timber that otherwise goes to waste when the forest is cleared to make way for the plantation.

But in its latest 2018 report, the SDI has again highlighted the destructive impact and role the GVL is playing in the degradation and destruction of the country’s forests, which, according to experts constitute the largest block of rain forests in West Africa with a very high carbon stock. That aside the GVL continues to come under for human rights and policy violations in its area of operations. Since its establishment in 2010 locals have been protesting against land encroachment as well as bad labor practices.

In some instances, some individuals have been shot by Police who had been called in to quell protest actions some of which were reported to have turned violent. Locals have repeatedly complained about land grabbing actions by GVL which has seen the destruction of ancestral burial sites and other places considered sacred by locals but little or nothing has been done to address their concerns.

Fast forward to 2018, in the July 4th edition of the Daily Observer, reporter Joaquim Sendolo quoting the SDI 2018 report entitled, “High Risk in the Rainforest,” GVL is alleged to have cleared and planted some 15,000 hectares of land which consists of a mosaic of forests, fallows and farmland. Further according to SDI, GVL has not yet established any of the 40,000 hectares of out-grower plantations it promised as a way of encouraging local involvement in the industry and raising income levels.

Moreover, the GVl has cleared 380 acres forests of high carbon stock in Kpanyan District, Sinoe County, out of which 268 acres are said to be high priority patches for conservation purposes. Some of these areas according to the SDI are Chimpanzee habitats, identified as such by GVL commissioned biodiversity reports, which are being wantonly destroyed in reckless and utter disregard for local concerns as well as for sustainable conservation practices. This is in addition to damaged/polluted streams, waterways, wetlands and buffer zones compounded by GVl’s gross failure to compensate local communities for damage done to community water sources.

Additionally, according to sources, “GVL has consistently violated human rights through its failure to implement adequate free, prior and informed consent procedures, destruction of sacred sites and ongoing development of disputed land, as affirmed by a February 2018 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Complaints Panel decision,” all of which the SDI has confirmed in its 2018 report.

Acting in utter disregard of recommendations of the RSPO Complaint Panel, the GVL has continued with its land development activities (clearing forests) and has blatantly refused to cease construction of an oil palm mill he of getting land violates Liberia’s Community Rights Law and Land Rights Policy, as they disregard communities’ land and natural resource rights.

Of concern to this newspaper is the 65-year concession agreement which stands in violation of the Public Lands law restricting land lease agreements to periods not more than 50 years and the obnoxious fact that this Golden Verroleum company is granted the privilege to withhold taxes for a period of 65 years.

It is indeed high time that the Government of Liberia brings to a halt such blatant violations of our laws by foreign concessionaires. This newspaper notes that the GVL is not alone in such exploitative practices. Liberia’s oldest concessionaire, Firestone for example has time and time again been accused of bad labor practices and pollution of drinking water sources. Such practices have continued without let for ages and although workers and locals have sought redress including legal action, Firestone’s actions have gone with impunity.

As of late, Firestone, this newspaper has learned is seeking to change its concession agreement to include the cultivation of oil palm, cocoa and other agricultural crops but with little or no benefit accruing to the country after nearly one hundred years of operation in Liberia. And as it appears past government officials have either been bought or compromised to protect Firestone. In this regard, we have seen workers getting shot, beaten and imprisoned to ensure that Firestone gets her way.

And the story is the same of other concessionaires like Sime Darby, LAC, Mittal Steel, Aureus Gold, etc. The story tells of massive exploitation and enduring hardships for the people of Liberia whose leaders have sold the birth rights of their own people for a few shillings. More recently, Hummingbird Resources have joined the fray with a bogus concession agreement awarding large swathes of land containing precious minerals to a company that had virtually no money.

And shamefully and disgustingly the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, a geologist by training is a reportedly a shareholder in the company that has been granted such undeserving privilege. Gradually but surely Liberians are being made virtual strangers in the land they own and mere onlookers at ongoing economic activities in the land of their forebears.

Now long can this situation persist without redress? Thanks for nothing to President Sirleaf, nearly all the concession agreements signed under her watch have turned out to be a virtual sellout for a pittance, the future of generations unborn. This newspaper, the Daily Observer cannot help but warn that the Liberian people will not forever continue to accept such gross injustice to persist. One day and just one day sooner than later, it shall all come to pass for the people shall rise. The lessons imparted by 14 years of brutal fratricide must be lost on our leaders and neither on ourselves lest we run the risk of inviting disaster upon ourselves all over again.

In its July 27, 2016 edition, the Daily observer carried a front-page story with headlines that read “Liberia’s Rain forests in Danger”. In that article the Daily Observer quoting the Sustainable Development institute (SDI) warned that the country’s forests were under threat from agricultural concessions such as Sime Darby and Golden Verroleum Liberia.

The SDI maintained that the government of Liberia at the time was considering the granting of permits to agricultural concessions to carryout logging activities within their concession areas. According to the SDI the granting of permits to engage in such activities would see the illegal expansion of these concessions well beyond their controversial limits. The SDI noted that this practice which is called Conversion/Timber logging, has the potential to destroy the country’s remaining rain forests.

The SDI at the time disclosed that the FDA had developed regulations that would enable large-scale timber extraction in agricultural concession areas for export, which it believed would exacerbate the threats from the oil palm sector. Moreover, the SDI disclosed that vast tracts of land were at stake with the two companies controlling more than 600,000 hectares of land.

The Forestry Development Authority in its response however, denied that it had developed such regulations intended to grant agricultural concessions the right to harvest timber from within their concession areas. But the Golden Verroleum Liberia(GVL), at the time refuted the SDI report saying its intent was to help communities make use of the timber that otherwise goes to waste when the forest is cleared to make way for the plantation.

But in its latest 2018 report, the SDI has again highlighted the destructive impact and role the GVL is playing in the degradation and destruction of the country’s forests, which, according to experts constitute the largest block of rain forests in West Africa with a very high carbon stock. That aside the GVL continues to come under for human rights and policy violations in its area of operations.

Since its establishment in 2010 locals have been protesting against land encroachment as well as bad labor practices. In some instances, some individuals have been shot by Police who had been called in to quell protest actions some of which were reported to have turned violent. Locals have repeatedly complained about land grabbing actions by GVL which has seen the destruction of ancestral burial sites and other places considered sacred by locals but little or nothing has been done to address their concerns.

Fast forward to 2018, in the July 4th edition of the Daily Observer, reporter Joaquim Sendolo quoting the SDI 2018 report entitled, “High Risk in the Rainforest,” GVL is alleged to have cleared and planted some 15,000 hectares of land which consists of a mosaic of forests, fallows and farmland. Further according to SDI, GVL has not yet established any of the 40,000 hectares of out-grower plantations it promised as a way of encouraging local involvement in the industry and raising income levels.

Moreover, the GVl has cleared 380 acres forests of high carbon stock in Kpanyan District, Sinoe County, out of which 268 acres are said to be high priority patches for conservation purposes. Some of these areas according to the SDI are Chimpanzee habitats, identified as such by GVL commissioned biodiversity reports, which are being wantonly destroyed in reckless and utter disregard for local concerns as well as for sustainable conservation practices.

This is in addition to damaged/polluted streams, waterways, wetlands and buffer zones compounded by GVl’s gross failure to compensate local communities for damage done to community water sources. Additionally, according to sources, “GVL has consistently violated human rights through its failure to implement adequate free, prior and informed consent procedures, destruction of sacred sites and ongoing development of disputed land, as affirmed by a February 2018 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Complaints Panel decision,” all of which the SDI has confirmed in its 2018 report.

Acting in utter disregard of recommendations of the RSPO Complaint Panel, the GVL has continued with its land grabbing activities (clearing forests) and has blatantly refused to cease construction of an oil palm mill he of getting land violates Liberia’s Community Rights Law and Land Rights Policy, as they disregard communities’ land and natural resource rights.

Of concern to this newspaper is the 65-year concession agreement which stands in violation of the Public Lands law restricting land lease agreements to periods not more than 50 years and the obnoxious fact that this Golden Verroleum company is granted the privilege to withhold taxes for a period of 65 years.

It is indeed high time that the Government of Liberia brings to a halt such blatant violations of our laws by foreign concessionaires. This newspaper notes that the GVL is not alone in such exploitative practices. Liberia’s oldest concessionaire, Firestone for example has time and time again been accused of bad labor practices and pollution of drinking water sources.

Such practices have continued without let for ages and although workers and locals have sought redress including legal action, Firestone’s actions have gone with impunity. As of late, Firestone, this newspaper has learned is seeking to change its concession agreement to include the cultivation of oil palm, cocoa and other agricultural crops but with little or no benefit accruing to the country after nearly one hundred years of operation in Liberia.

And as it appears past government officials have either been bought or compromised to protect Firestone. In this regard, we have seen workers getting shot, beaten and imprisoned to ensure that Firestone gets her way. And the story is the same of other concessionaires like Sime Darby, LAC, Mittal Steel, Aureus Gold, etc. The story tells of massive exploitation and enduring hardships for the people of Liberia whose leaders have sold the birth rights of their own people for a few shillings.

More recently, Hummingbird Resources have joined the fray with a bogus concession agreement being awarded large swathes of land containing precious minerals to a company that had virtually no money. And shamefully and disgustingly the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, a geologist by training is a reportedly a shareholder in the company that has been granted such undeserving privilege.

Gradually but surely Liberians are being made virtual strangers in the land they own and mere onlookers at ongoing economic activities in the land of their forebears. How long can this situation persist without redress? Thanks for nothing to President Sirleaf, nearly all the concession agreements signed under her watch have turned out to be a virtual sellout for a pittance, the future of generations unborn.

This newspaper, the Daily Observer cannot help but warn that the Liberian people will not forever continue to accept such gross injustice to persist. One day and just one day sooner than later, it shall all come to pass for the people shall rise up.

The lessons imparted by 14 years of brutal fratricide must be lost on our leaders and neither on ourselves lest we run the risk of inviting disaster upon ourselves all over again. The Government of President Weah has made a good start by calling for a review of all concession agreements including that of the GVL. President Weah, who hails from southeastern Liberia must not allow the GVL to continue such illegal and environmentally harmful practices in that part of the country and the same goes for other illegal concessionaires. The GVL must be stopped from causing further harm to the environment and imposing undeserved hardships on our people.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I’m afraid another false and almost certainly libellous article published by this newspaper – for which I am rapidly losing all respect.
    It is laughably untrue that Hummingbird Resources have no money – they own a large and highly profitable gold mine in Mali. It is also untrue that Senator Cru is a shareholder – let alone owns 10% of the company. Hummingbird’s major shareholders are listed on its website, if anybody cares to check.
    I can’t comment on the rest of the article – lack of knowledge.

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