Liberia’s Miracle Oil Brings Farmers Only Empty Promises
By Rob Davies
The sign at the entrance to the palm oil plantation in Grand Bassa has faded thanks to Liberia’s relentless cycle of scorching sun and torrential rain. Even so, it’s possible to make out the phrase: “Your community is rich: Let’s have a fair share.”
Several miles farther on, past endless rows of carefully cultivated palm trees, it’s a slogan that bears little relation to reality. Gbenee Town is a small huddle of huts surrounded by a plantation more than six times the size of London’s Richmond Park.
The townspeople say that the benefits of the plantation’s expansion have passed them by and they have been duped by a government that took the land they were living off and gave it to foreign investors.
“The level we’re living here is very deplorable,” says G Hilary Gbah, one of the town’s elders. “We are starving to death.”
Gbah, 54, remembers the arrival in 2012 of Equatorial Palm Oil, the London-headquartered company that owns the plantation. “We embraced the company because we wanted development,” he says, remembering the promises of schools and clinics if local people gave up land.
“We were expecting education for our children, employment, healthcare.”
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth International.