Thursday, July 23, 2015

Food crops in Liberia converted to palm oil agribusiness for biofuel and other exports, locals forced to sign away their land or be beaten and arrested-BBC, Reuters

Palm oil industry in Africa reduces local food output in favor of crops for export....3/22/13. "Liberia’s foreign investors have secured access to more than 1.5 million acres for palm oil production, or about 5.6 percent of the country’s total land area." 5/18/2011

7/23/15, "Liberians 'pressured to sell land' for palm oil plantations," BBC

"Communities in Liberia are being pressured to sign away their land to make way for palm oil plantations, according to a campaign group.

Global Witness says Liberians have been beaten and arrested for refusing, and wants a government investigation.

The group says that the company behind the plantations, Golden Viroleum (GVL), ramped up land clearances during the recent Ebola outbreak.

GVL says it only signed pre-existing agreements during the outbreak.

Palm oil is a multi-billion dollar global industry, almost every major food manufacturer uses it in their products.

The oil has become a cornerstone of Liberia's development and the country is emerging as a new frontier market for what has become the world's cheapest oil. 

In 2010, the Liberian government agreed to lease GVL 544,000 acres of land for over 60 years. Global Witness says GVL dramatically expanded its operations in Liberia at the height of the Ebola outbreak last year, clearing thousands of acres of land while community support groups were busy dealing with the crisis. 

GVL said in a statement that the agreements signed with landowners during the Ebola crisis "were the culmination of extended engagement with the communities which began many months and in some cases years before the start of the Ebola outbreak".

The company claimed that communities "feared that GVL may abandon Liberia because of the crisis" and so it "made a conscious decision" to maintain operations.

In the report, Global Witness calls for legislation to be passed recognising "that rural communities own their land". 

In May, there were violent protests at a GVL plantation. Protestors in the south-east of the country reportedly took several people hostage before they were freed by police."



March 2013 article: "Instances of farms being cleared without prior consent and creeks used for drinking water being polluted:"

3/22/2013, "Largest Liberian palm oil project is failing locals: study," Reuters, Richard Valdmanis, Dakar

"Liberia's largest palm oil company, Golden Veroleum, needs to review its social and environmental policies after its workers damaged graves, cleared existing crops and polluted creeks, according to an independent study it commissioned.

The findings from The Forest Trust (TFT), a non-profit environmental consultancy, follow complaints from activists that the Singapore-controlled firm is violating commitments it made as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global certification body for the industry.

Palm oil is the world's most important vegetable oil used in everything from margarine and soap to biofuel, with annual production around the world worth about $20 billion....

"There is materiality to a number of the claims made by the communities," according to the TFT report obtained by Reuters....

"We acknowledge and accept the recommendations in the report and we expect to implement them," said Golden Veroleum spokesman David Rothschild. "If we have fallen short, we will try to improve."

Critics say the palm oil industry is taking part in a land grab in Africa that reduces local food output in favor of crops for export. Golden Veroleum's investment, however, was widely seen as a boon for Liberia, which is trying to rebuild after a 1989-2003 civil war that crippled its economy.

TFT submitted the findings to Golden Veroleum in February but the document has yet to be released publicly. Global Veroleum commissioned TFT to do the study in January, saying it hoped the findings and recommendations would help it improve its operation in Liberia.

The report found at least four cases of workers apparently damaging ancestral cemeteries - including by planting trees on graves - and instances of farms being cleared without prior consent and creeks used for drinking water being polluted. The report added that compensation to victims was often inadequate....

Golden Veroleum is owned by the U.S.-based Verdant Fund LP, whose sole investor is Singapore-listed palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources, the world's second-largest palm oil plantation company.

It became Liberia's biggest palm oil investor in 2010 after announcing plans to spend $1.6 billion developing plantations over 220,000 hectares....

RSPO membership is meant to help palm oil firms boost their access to markets and capital while improving community and labor relations and preventing environmental damage....

No Golden-Agri official could immediately be contacted in Singapore."


May 18, 2011 article: "Liberia’s foreign investors have secured access to more than 1.5 million acres for palm oil production, or about 5.6 percent of the country’s total land area.".

5/18/2011, "West Africa Rising: Liberia leads charge to lure palm oil investors," cs monitor, Paige McClanahan

"In the past three years, four major companies have promised a total of $2.6 billion in palm oil investment in Liberia, and more could be coming soon. Global demand for the versatile oil is expected to double by 2020." 

"West Africa’s abundant natural resources have been a magnet for foreign investors ever since the Portuguese discovered gold in what’s now Mauritania back in the 1400s. 

Today, a new set of visitors is hoping to make a mint off the region’s natural wealth. But they’re looking for treasure above ground, not below it. Palm oil is what they’re after. 

Global demand for the red-hued edible oil – a key ingredient in everything from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Dial soap to biofuels – is expected to double by 2020. Here in West Africa, the war-battered and achingly poor nation of Liberia is leading the charge in luring palm oil investors to its fertile soils.

By any measure, the country has succeeded. In the past three years, four major companies have promised a total of $2.6 billion in palm oil investment, and more could be coming soon. 

The biggest pledge has come from Golden VerOleum, a subsidiary of the New-York based private equity fund Verdant Fund LP, which announced an investment of $1.6 billion last year, the single biggest agriculture outlay the country has ever seen. 

Malaysia-based palm oil giant Sime Darby is also in on the game, having pledged $800 million for a 63-year concession that grants it access to nearly 550,000 acres of land. 

Taken together, Liberia’s foreign investors have secured access to more than 1.5 million acres for palm oil production, or about 5.6 percent of the country’s total land area. 

All of that land acquisition has caused some concern among environmental groups, who fear the companies will knock down species-rich tropical forests to make way for acre upon acre of tidy rows of oil palms. Others worry about the social impact of forcing villagers off of land they have inhabited for generations.... 

Crippled by two grisly civil wars and a long legacy of corruption, Liberia remains one of Africa’s poorest countries, despite recent gains....

It’s not clear that the production of palm oil will necessarily lead to deforestation, as the investors claim that the land they’re planning to cultivate has already been cleared of trees. All of the companies active here are already members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international certification scheme headquartered in Malaysia. 

Despite such assurances, the potential downsides of palm oil production are being carefully considered. A working group whose members represent NGOs, the government, and the private sector is working to set up sustainability standards under the RSPO that are specific to Liberia."...


Same situation in Ethiopia and Kenya :

Thousands of Ethiopians forced to move off their land so foreign agribusiness can have it for sugar and palm oil, gov. keeps news quiet, area inaccessible to journalists-BBC 

1/5/15, "The people pushed out of Ethiopia's fertile farmland," BBC

The construction of a huge dam in Ethiopia and the introduction of large-scale agricultural businesses has been controversial - finding out what local people think can be hard, but with the help of a bottle of rum nothing is impossible. 
After waiting several weeks for letters of permission from various Ethiopian ministries, I begin my road trip into the country's southern lowlands. 

I want to investigate the government's controversial plan to take over vast swathes of ancestral land, home to around 100,000 indigenous pastoralists, and turn it into a major centre for commercial agriculture, where foreign agribusinesses and government plantations would raise cash crops such as sugar and palm oil.

After driving 800km (497 miles) over two days through Ethiopia's lush highlands I begin my descent into the lower Omo valley. Here, where palaeontologists have discovered some of the oldest human remains on earth, some ancient ways of life cling on. Some tourists can be found here seeking a glimpse of an Africa that lives in their imagination. But the government's plan to "modernise" this so-called "backward" area has made it inaccessible for journalists.
As my jeep bounces down into the valley, I watch as people decorated in white body paint and clad in elaborate jewellery made from feathers and cow horn herd their cows down the dusty track. 

I arrive late in the afternoon at a village I won't name, hoping to speak to some Mursi people - a group of around 7,000 famous for wearing huge ornamental clay lip plates. 

The Mursi way of life is in jeopardy. They are being resettled to make way for a major sugar plantation on their ancestral land - so ending their tradition of cattle herding. 

Meanwhile, a massive new dam upstream will reduce the Omo River, ending its seasonal flood - and the food crops they grow on its banks. 

It is without doubt one of the most sensitive stories in Ethiopia and one the government is keen to suppress. 

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised schemes like this, alleging that locals are being abused and coerced into compliance. 

I'd spoken to local senior officials in the provincial capital of Jinka, before travelling into the remote savannah. 

The suspicion is palpable as the chief of the south Omo zone lectures me. Local people and the area's reputation have been greatly harmed by the negative reports by foreigners, he says. 

Eventually a frank exchange takes place and I secure verbal permission to report on the changes taking place in the valley.

It seems prudent to let the Mursi tribe and attendant police warm to my presence before I start asking questions. After all, I have the whole evening. 

But a brief chat with the tribe ends abruptly with the entrance of a police officer, wearing a replica Manchester United football shirt, vehemently waving a dog-eared copy of the country's constitution.

I am prohibited from talking to anyone and must immediately climb back into my jeep, drive back up the mountain and return to Jinka, he says.
As often in Ethiopia, he doesn't explain exactly why. 

I object to driving through the wilderness at dusk on safety grounds and so a compromise is reached: I will pitch my hammock outside the police station, a short stroll away from the village, with armed guards watching my every move. 

The political boss of the zone comes on the two-way radio. "This is house arrest," I protest. "No, just a misunderstanding," he replies. 

The prospect of returning home without interviews is unthinkable. My ruse is to distract my captors.

I sit them down for a meal of pasta and vegetables - and brimming beakers of spiced rum - in front of my laptop, which is playing an Ethiopian comedy.

After saying good night I strike out through the scrubland. 

I run without sense of direction through bush and bog, crawl under fences, and negotiate large herds of noisy cattle. I have to find a village elder I met earlier, and interview him before policemen and their flashlights turn up. 

So I am relieved to stumble on two boys milking their cows in the moonlight. They lead me to the elder's hut. The sound of so many rudely-awakened animals in our wake fills me with dread that searchlights are heading our way. 

The moment arrives. I squat in front of the elder inside his mud dwelling, surrounded by his sleeping companions: several cows, a goat and a cat. My dictaphone is poised to record truths heard by few journalists in this media-muzzled region

I ask him in broken Amharic what is going on. He tells me: "The government is telling us to sell our cattle and modernise like townspeople - they say our land is the property of the sugar corporation. We have not been asked what we want or need. 

"If we do not accept the resettlement plans, we'll be taken to jail. How can we survive if we have no access to land, cattle or water?"

I promptly thank the elder for his time, apologise for disrupting his evening and head back to my open-air jail. 

On reaching my hammock I find several dozing policemen and an empty bottle of rum. Mission accomplished. 

The Mursi people
  • About 10,000 Mursi people live in Ethiopia
  • Traditionally insert pottery plates known as debhinya in the lower lips of young women
  • They live in an area surrounded by the rivers Mara, Omo and Mago, which flow into Lake Turkana
  • Mursi territory was incorporated into Ethiopia during the reign of King Menelik II in the 19th Century
Source: Oxford University Department of International Development"



World Bank funds African governments forcing indigenous people off lands, clearing forests, "cultural genocide," allegedly to help "climate change:" UK Guardian, icij

9/29/14, "World Bank accuses itself of failing to protect Kenya forest dwellers," UK Guardian, John Vidal

"A leaked copy of a World Bank investigation seen by the Guardian has accused the bank of failing to protect the rights of one of Kenya’s last groups of forest people, who are being evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of climate change and conservation

Thousands of homes belonging to hunter-gatherer Sengwer people living in the Embobut forest in the Cherangani hills were burned down earlier this year by Kenya forest service guards who had been ordered to clear the forest as part of a carbon offset project that aimed to reduce emissions from deforestation.

The result has been that more than 1,000 people living near the town of Eldoret have been classed as squatters and forced to flee what they say has been government harassment, intimidation and arrest.

The evictions were condemned in February by the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, and drew in the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who expressed alarm at what was described by 360 national and international civil society organisations and individuals as “cultural genocide”. An Avaaz petition collected 950,000 names calling for the bank to urgently halt the “illegal” evictions.

Following a request by the Sengwer to assess the impact of the bank’s funding of the project, the bank’s inspection panel decided in May that it had violated safeguards in several areas. At the same time, the bank’s management decided to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations.

“Unfortunately, the World Bank’s own leaked management response to the report denies many of the findings, evidently sees little importance in the fact that violation of safeguard policies has occurred, and presents an inadequate action plan to be considered by the bank’s board. It simply proposes more training for forest service staff, and a meeting to examine what can be learnt,” said a spokesman for the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme.

“President Kim said the bank would not be bystanders, but only by taking seriously the many breaches of its own safeguards and approving the action plan requested by the Sengwer people themselves to overcome the human rights violations that these breaches have contributed to will the bank be able to demonstrate that the president has been true to his word,” said Peter Kitelo, a representative of Kenya’s Forest Indigenous Peoples Network.

A final decision on the project will be made on Tuesday when the World Bank board meets in Washington under the chairmanship of Kim to decide on the bank’s response to the inspection panel report. If the board decides to endorse the action plan, the evictions are certain to be completed. More than half the people evicted are thought to have returned to their lands.

“The eviction of such ancestral communities leaves the indigenous forests open to exploitation and destruction; whereas securing such communities rights to their lands and responsibility to continue traditional conservation practices, protects their forests,” said the Forest Peoples Programme."

Image: "Families from the Sengwer community leave their homes in Embobut, Kenya. Photograph: Forest Peoples Programme"


No protests mentioning "World Bank" were allowed inside 2010 UN Cancun "Climate conference." Taxpayer dollars from "rich countries" for alleged climate injustice often go to the World Bank and not the poor:

12/8/2010, "March to keep World Bank out of climate finance," Climate Justice 

Dec. 2010 UN Cancun Climate conf.
"Cancun: Anger grows at World Bank role in climate finance"

"As talks on long term climate finance for developing countries heat up today in Cancun, campaigners from around the world condemned rich countries’ efforts to carve out a special role for the World Bank in managing these funds.

Campaigners are furious that the World Bank is being promoted as the hub for climate finance. They insist that because the institution continues to bankroll dirty fossil fuel projects to the tune of $6.6 billion last year alone – they are in the wrong hands for the funds to fight climate change. They also cite the Bank’s recent history of imposing climate finance as loans, creating new debt for already impoverished countries, increasing the role of the private sector and imposing economic policy conditions that increase inequality.

The coalition of diverse groups from developed and developing countries launched a new campaign ‘World Bank our of climate finance’ today calling on governments to resist any role for the institution in climate finance. They are particularly angry that in an early draft of the negotiating text, the World Bank has been invited to serve as the interim trustee of a new global climate fund – and potentially its secretariat.

In response, 200 organisations from around the world, including Jubilee South, Friends of the Earth International and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance have signed an open letter to governments at the Cancun negotiations stating that the nature, structure, track record, and policies of the World Bank and other development banks contradict what should be the principles of fair and effective climate finance.

Ian Rivera, from Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) – Philippines said:

“It’s outrageous that the World Bank is being forced on to developing countries. Peoples of developing countries do not want to work with the World Bank in order to access much needed climate finance. Based on bitter experience, they know that the World Bank will increase their debts and poverty and will undermine their human rights and their independence. That’s why we have launched a new campaign to stop the World Bank being imposed on developing countries who need climate finance to cope with climate change.”

Campaigners are also angry that they are not being allowed to campaign against the World Bank inside the UN talks. They have been told that permission will not be granted for any protest that mentions the World Bank, so they are being forced to march and protest away from the conference centre.

Muhammad Reza, from KRUHA (People’s Coalition for the Right to Water)-Indonesia said: “We are not allowed to even whisper the World Bank’s name in a negative context within the UN. This is silencing civil society in a space where civil society’s voice must be heard and must be listened to.”
The UK government is believed to be playing a key role in pushing for the World Bank to take the role of climate finance manager, and provides over 80 per cent of its climate finance through the World Bank, with 60 per cent as loans to developing countries.

Kirsty Wright, from the World Development Movement said: “Donor countries, in particular the UK, are unfairly pushing for climate finance to be channelled as loans through the World Bank. Rich countries are undemocratically imposing the World Bank into these talks. The current negotiating text goes further than the Copenhagen Accord, by specifically inviting the World Bank to become the manager of climate finance. The World Bank cannot be trusted with climate finance given that it is a leader in investing in fossil fuel projects, like coal power stations. It’s absolutely disgraceful, and we will resist this strongly together with our allies from around the world.”"

Image above from Climate Justice Network, 12/8/2010

- For more information:

"World Bank manages 12 carbon funds through its Carbon Financing Unit, with an approximate value of US$ 2.5 billion. So far these have mainly involved projects in countries such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia."


Genocide is now defined as "violating rules:"

1/20/15, "Leaked report says World Bank violated own rules in Ethiopia," Sasha Chavkin,

"Internal watchdog finds link between World Bank financing and Ethiopian government's mass resettlement of indigenous group."

"The World Bank repeatedly violated its own rules while funding a development initiative in Ethiopia that has been dogged by complaints that it sponsored forced evictions of thousands of indigenous people, according to a leaked report by a watchdog panel at the bank.

The report, which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, examines a health and education initiative that was buoyed by nearly $2 billion in World Bank funding over the last decade. Members of the indigenous Anuak people in Ethiopia’s Gambella province charged that Ethiopian authorities used some of the bank’s money to support a massive forced relocation program and that soldiers beat, raped and killed Anuak who refused to abandon their homes. The bank continued funding the health and education initiative for years after the allegations emerged.

The report by the World Bank’s internal Inspection Panel found that there was an “operational link” between the World Bank-funded program and the Ethiopian government’s relocation push, which was known as “villagization.” By failing to acknowledge this link and take action to protect affected communities, the bank violated its own policies on project appraisal, risk assessment, financial analysis and protection of indigenous peoples, the panel’s report concludes.

“The bank has enabled the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of indigenous people from their ancestral lands,” said David Pred, director of Inclusive Development International, a nonprofit that filed the complaint on behalf of 26 Anuak refugees.

The bank declined to answer ICIJ’s questions about the report.

“As is standard procedure, World Bank staff cannot comment on the results of the Inspection Panel’s investigation until the Executive Board of the World Bank Group has had the opportunity to review the Panel’s report over the coming weeks,” Phil Hay, the bank’s spokesman for Africa, said in a written response.

In previous responses to the complaint, bank management said there was no evidence of widespread abuses or evictions and that the Anuak “have not been, nor will they be, directly and adversely affected by a failure of the Bank to implement its policies and procedures.” 

Because the panel’s report has not yet been published, some of the language may be revised before a final version is released, but its basic conclusions are not expected to change.

The report stops short of finding the bank responsible for the most serious abuses. The panel did not attempt to verify the widely reported allegations of forced evictions and human rights violations, finding that the question was beyond the scope of its investigation. The bank did not violate its policy on forced resettlement, the report says, because the relocations were conducted by the Ethiopian government and were not a “necessary” part of the health and education program.

Since 2006, the World Bank and other foreign donors have bankrolled the Promoting Basic Services (PBS) program, which provides grants to local and regional governments for services such as health, education and clean water. The PBS program was designed to avoid funneling aid dollars directly to Ethiopia’s federal government, which had violently cracked down on its opposition after disputed 2005 elections.

By 2010, federal and provincial authorities had embarked on an effort to relocate nearly 2 million poor people in four provinces from isolated rural homes to village sites selected by the government. In these new villages, authorities promised to provide the relocated communities with health care, education and other basic services they had lacked. 

The government relocated 37,883 households in Gambella, roughly 60 percent of all households in the province, according to Ethiopian government statistics cited by the Inspection Panel. The Ethiopian government has said that all resettlements were voluntary.

Many members of the Anuak, a mostly Christian indigenous group in Gambella, have said they didn’t want to move. Anuak and their advocates say that they were pushed off their fertile lands by soldiers and policemen, and that much of the abandoned land was then leased by the government to investors. 

The evictions were “accompanied by widespread human rights violations, including forced displacement, arbitrary arrest and detention, beatings, rape, and other sexual violence,” according to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch.

The Human Rights Watch report and Anuak refugees’ complaint to the Inspection Panel contended that the bank’s money was being used by local and regional authorities to support forced relocations. For example, they say, money from the PBS initiative was used to pay the salaries of government officials who helped carry out the evictions.

The bank continued to fund the PBS program throughout the villagization campaign. The bank approved new funding for PBS in 2011 and 2012, and its support for the program continues today. Since the nationwide health and education initiative launched, Ethiopia has reported strides in reducing child mortality and increasing primary school enrollment.

The villagization campaign ended in 2013, and is believed to have resettled substantially fewer than the nearly 2 million people anticipated by the government.

The Ethiopia case is one of several recent World Bank-financed projects that have drawn fire from activist groups for allegedly funding human rights violations. These projects include a loan to a palm oil producer in Honduras whose security guards have been accused by human rights advocates of killing dozens of peasants involved in a land rights dispute with the company, and a conservation program by the Kenyan government that members of the Sengwer people say was used as tool for pushing them out of their ancestral forests.

In the Ethiopia case, the Inspection Panel decided that the most severe allegations of forced evictions and violence were beyond its mandate, in part because bank rules limited its investigation to only the most recent funding installment of the PBS program.

During its investigation, the Inspection Panel asked Eisei Kurimoto, a professor at Osaka University in Japan and an expert on the Anuak people, to travel to Gambella and help review the Anuak’s complaint.

Kurimoto told ICIJ that Anuak he spoke with told him Ethiopian authorities used the threat of violence to force them to move.

Ethiopian officials who carried out the villagization program always went with armed policemen and soldiers,Kurimoto said. “It is very clear that the regional government thought that people would not move happily or willingly. So they had to show their power and the possibility of using force.”

Inclusive Development International’s Pred said it is now up to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to decide whether “justice will be served” for the Anuak. “Justice starts with the acceptance of responsibility for one’s faults – which the Inspection Panel found in abundance – and ends with the provision of meaningful redress,” he said."

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