The Government of Liberia signed away the Clan’s land to a British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) without their consent. Communities all over Liberia are facing the same threat as their land is grabbed by agribusiness, mining and logging companies through leases known as concession agreements for as long as 65 years.
The communities’ resistance began in 2012 when EPO began to expand their plantation onto their land. The planned expansion would engulf the communities’ land amounting to over 20,000 hectares. As a palm oil plantation involves such large land areas it invariably takes place on land already used by communities and prevents fertile land from being used for food production.
The Clan organised and came together to resist their land being grabbed. Men, women and youth were involved in the struggle to protect the Clan’s land and remained united despite the divide and rule tactics of the company.
As a result of their resistance the community faced intimidation and harassment by EPO security forces and the police. People were also assaulted during a peaceful march and 17 people suffered arbitrary arrest. Conflict between palm oil and rubber plantation companies and communities has been common.
Despite these aggressive tactics the community continued resisting. They lodged a complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and presented a petition to the government stating their objections.
However the community refused to be weakened by division and eventually secured a crucial meeting with the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf where she committed to supporting the Clan protect their land from being grabbed. This is a landmark victory for communities in a country where over 50% of the land has been given to companies without the involvement of the communities that live on and customarily own the land.
“The struggle has made us stronger than ever before and we’ve learned a lesson to stay united” said Anthony Johnson, “The success is so great as it secures my future and the future of my children to come. I will stay on this land and plant crops for my children so future generations can live off the land”
With their land secure the community is thinking about the future; “We want the government to support us to be self-sufficient on our land instead of giving it to a company who will just take the money and go home. Instead we can keep the money in Liberia and we can live better lives” said Garmondeh Benwon (R).
Every year, an area five times the land mass of Liberia is grabbed from communities around the world. The Jogbahn Clan show that stopping it is possible when communities stand together, mobilise and resist.
“I am very happy my land is free” said Deyeatee Kardor, Clan Chairlady, “Because when our land is free, we’re all free”.
All images Jason Taylor for Friends of the Earth 2014. CC creative commons license.