Palm oil industry struggles to build trust in rights pledges

22 April 2014

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - James Mulbah knows how forests work. After fleeing Liberia's civil war, aged seven, he and his family lived as refugees in a forest village in Guinea for the next eight years, reliant on the environment for food, medicine and fuel. The trained sociologist is now putting that knowledge to good use in his native country.

Mulbah is part of the community affairs team at Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), an oil palm developer whose main investor is Singapore-based giant Golden Agri-Resources. His job is to persuade local people to let the company plant oil palm on the land where they have subsisted for generations.

It's a painstaking process, requiring several months of consultation and negotiation. The company has just signed its third agreement in Grand Kru County, covering some 1,800 hectares. In return, the two communities involved will receive an annual payment of $5 per hectare, jobs, scholarships, hand pumps for water and a slice of plantation for themselves. Schools and a road will be rehabilitated.

GVL is the first big company to start operations in Grand Kru, and its arrival stirs mixed emotions and sometimes false expectations, Mulbah told Thomson Reuters Foundation from its office there.

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