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first_imgA delegation of senior members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has ended a one-day visit to Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL), in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, Western Liberia.The visit was intended to acquaint the Oil Palm governing body officials with an update of activities at the Plantation, following the withdrawal of a complaint that was filed by locals against the company three years ago.The two-man RSPO delegation comprising of the group’s Technical Director, Salahudin Yacaab and Ravin Krishnan, head of complaints, had an hour-long meeting with Sime Darby and some local community leaders, followed by a tour of the company’s facilities.RSPO members visited SDPL main office in Bomi, Matambo estate, the PAC school in Senii as well as Baka-Kenemah, a small village adjacent the plantation.  Chief Fakamu Samukai, acting Paramount Chief of Clay District, one of the signatories of the complaint at the time, Alex Balo, leader of Grand Cape Mount County Civil Society Organizations, Zodua Land Committee Chairman, Boakai Kromah and Executive Director of Community Organized Hunger (COAH) Mr. Edwin S. Balo met the RSPO delegation.The local community leaders and civil society activists said during Sime Darby’s initial land acquisition process in 2011, there were some missteps due to misunderstanding, and lack of proper information to the local residents about SDPL’s operations the area.Since then, Sime Darby has made tremendous improvement in their land acquisition process in Western Liberia, Alex Balo told the visiting RSPO Delegation. Balo said, SDPL’s operation is now more participatory then it has been.Community members, according to him are fully involved in the demarcation of their sacred sites—Poro and Sande bushes as well boundaries demarcation for reserve land. “People told us that Sime Darby was bad. But we have seen for ourselves, our people themselves are the ones making the decision for their land to be developed. Our people are fully involved with everything Sime Darby does on their land. We have seen for ourselves the kind of development that this company brings to a region that was devastated by war,” Balo told the visitors.The Civil Society Chair said they have seen for themselves the infrastructure, economic, social and other long term benefit SDPL’s operation is bring to the local communities. “No one needs to tell us whether Sime Darby is good or bad anymore. The roads, clinic, the school, employment and other social benefits are more than enough to allow us make a decision of yes or no,” Balo said.For Paramount Chief Farkamu Samakai, who was one of signatories of the initial complaint against SDPL, there is no better time than now to offer more land to Sime Darby. “All I can say is that the People of Gborblah are willing to offer more land to the company. What happened in the past was because we didn’t know the truth at the time, now that we know, we are happy working with Sime Darby.”In Baka-Kenemah the RSPO visitors heard from the local people about how they are doing following their withdrawal of a complaint three years now. Sime Darby Head of Liberia Project, Roslin Azmy Hassan told the visiting RSPO members that his company, as a member of the world governing body recognizes the local residents’ right to their land. Roslin said SDPL will not develop any land without the full consent of the local people.It can be recalled, in 2011, at the start of SDPL’s operation in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, local communities filed a 14 count complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO). The locals among other things, complained that they were not properly consulted before the start of operations by the Malaysian conglomerate.At the height of the stand-off between the local communities and SDPL, on 10 December 2011, SDPL was forced to temporarily lay off 900 of its contracted and daily-hired workers due to safety reasons.  Roads were blocked and machines owned by SDPL were forced to shut down as a result of intense pressure and aggression from certain quarters. Working with government officials, SDPL swiftly managed to resolve the issues with the local communities thus allowing the workers to resume work the next day. Later, in early 2012, Chief Sekou Balo Deputy National Traditional Council Chairman for Liberia, and all other signatories to the initial complaint officially withdrew it; paving the way for Sime Darby to continue its operation in Western Liberia.Sime Darby has planted more than 10,000 hectares of land with oil palm in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties. The company has also received additional 5,000 hectares of land in Zodua Clan, Upper Gawula District and 1,800 more in Sengeh district, Bomi County. Communities in Gola Konneh District, Gborblah Clan and Medina Township have officially asked Sime Darby to develop their areas, but SDPL authorities are yet to move into those areas.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img