“When our land is free, we’re all free”

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From 6-8 May, agribusiness corporations will be courting African governments at the Grow Africa Investment Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, to “further accelerate sustainable agricultural growth in Africa”.

The interest corporations have in agriculture in Africa has certainly accelerated corporate control of land and seeds, but it has done little to support agriculture that will actually feed the continent.

Rather than support family farming and small-scale farmers, private sector investments in agriculture have resulted in community land grabs; land which these communities farm sustainably and rely on for their survival.

But some communities are successfully resisting this corporate takeover and are spreading the message to stop selling Africa to corporations.

The Jogbahn clan in Liberia is one such example.

The President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has now recognised their right to say no to Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO), a British palm oil company trying to grab their land.

This is no small feat in a country where over 50 per cent of the land has been given to corporations without the consent of the communities who customarily own it.

“Why should a company take away our livelihood?” asked Chief Elder Chio Johnson Chio.

“We come from this land. Everything our ancestors left us is preserved in the forest, so why should we give up our forest?”

Like other rural communities in Liberia, the Jogbahn clan live by the land, managing it collectively and sustainably.

Walking through the forest, Deyeatee Kardor, the clan’s chairperson, picks leaves and describes their medicinal properties.

She recounts how she and her family hid in the forest throughout the war and managed to survive on the plants and fruits growing in the bush.

Though the land bears the scars of the recent past, it also represents the clan’s ancestral home and they would not willingly allow this deep connection to the land to be fractured.

 

A story of resistance

The communities’ resistance began in 2012, after the government of Liberia and EPO signed a concession agreement allowing the company’s plantations to engulf over 20,000 hectares of the communities’ land.

Men, women and youth from the 11 affected towns chose representatives to form a core group to lead the resistance. They met the company and the government several times to object to the company’s expansion.

Yet, towards the end of 2012 EPO began clearing and planting their land, destroying crops and farmland. And in September 2013, the company began surveying the communities’ land without their consent.

When communities attempted to stop the survey a paramilitary police unit was deployed into the area. The inhabitants suffered harassment and intimidation.

Despite these aggressive tactics and attempts by EPO to buy off some people within the communities, the resistance continued.

They lodged a complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and presented a petition to the government stating their objections.

A crucial meeting with President Johnson-Sirleaf was eventually secured, where she recognised their right to say ‘no’ to the company.

Despite Johnson-Sirleaf’s commitment, EPO is still conducting studies of the clan’s land in preparation for clearing.

Such action would be unlawful, as it does not respect communities’ right to give or withhold their Free Prior and Informed Consent, which is a requirement under both national and international law.

The clan are not discouraged and they continue their resistance for the hope of a better future.

Every year, an area five times the land size of Liberia is grabbed from communitiesaround the world.

The Jogbahn clan shows that stopping it is possible when communities stand together to mobilise and resist.

And as Deyeatee says, “When our land is free, we’re all free”.

Support the Jogbahn clan to protect their land and resources against EPO by signing the petition.