Pa Sando, the town chief of Konja, in Grand Cape Mount county in Liberia, looks out across the farmland. "I used to pick cocoa on this farm for more than 30 years. My grandfather planted it for us," he says. "All this area here was mine, and now it's all gone."
The land has been leased by Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Inc, owned by the Malaysian-based multinational Sime Darby, to grow trees for palm oil. Sando said he was never asked whether he wanted to give up his land – only that he saw the bulldozers in the bush and then his land was taken.
Much of rural Liberia's population lives on land that has been in the family for generations. Most people don't have the money to go through the costly and complicated process of acquiring deeds, so under Liberian law the government is the owner of all public land. Sando's land was not registered, therefore it belonged to the government.
Sime Darby has signed a 63-year agreement with the government to develop 220,000 hectares of land for palm oil. The company's website says it is "the world's premier producer of sustainable palm oil". It boasts of its aspiration of "making sustainable futures real for everyone". The word "sustainable" is mentioned repeatedly.
However, a report (pdf) from the Centre for International Conflict Resolution (CICR), at Columbia University in the US, raises doubts about whether the future is quite so bright for the communities affected by the company's actions.
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