Sime Darby receives locals' blessing for Liberia plantation

MONROVIA, June 29 Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:10pm EDT

MONROVIA, June 29 (Reuters) - Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby has received the green light from villagers in western Liberia to clear 5,000 hectares of land for a plantation, after a non-governmental organisation have accused it of a land grab.

A memorandum, signed at a ceremony in Grand Cape Mount County on Friday, gave villagers' blessing for the company to develop the land with oil palm and rubber. It was witnessed by Liberian officials, civil society and traditional elders.

Environmental lobbyist Friends of the Earth accused Sime Darby this week of harming biodiversity and depriving farmers of their livelihoods with its development in the west African country. The company denied the accusation.

Sime Darby has signed an agreement with Liberia to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for 63 years.

However, it has met resistance from some locals who accused the company of not properly informing them of the scale and implications of the project.

The general manger of Sime Darby Liberia Plantation, Roslin Azmy Hassan, told reporters the company had so far planted only 7,000 hectares of the land awarded it by the government.

"This is due to the many challenges we faced in the past. But now, that has been cleared up and the locals are part of the process, which is very good," she said.

The agreement called on the company to fully respect Liberia's environmental regulations. The company also promised to provide health and education facilities for its employees.

It said Sime Darby would establish an palm oil mill once it had developed at least 15,000 to 20,000 hectares of its plantation.

Walter Yedebbuo Wisner, the co-chairman for the Land Commission, a government agency responsible for land reform, said the Malaysian company had respected Liberia's land laws and environmental regulations.

Palm oil is the world's most widely produced vegetable oil and is used in everything from margarine and soap to biofuel. Annual production around the world is valued at about $20 billion. (Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Editing by Alison Williams)

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