Monrovia, 15 December 2011 - Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Inc (SDPL) would like to dispel misleading reports by a local Liberian newspaper, The News, entitled “Sime Darby Told to Halt Operation” in its 14 December 2011 edition. This was in relation to the disruption of work at Grand Cape Mount (GCM) county from 5 December to 10 December 2011.
As the world´s largest producer of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, Sime Darby Plantation and its Liberian subsidiary play a leading role in the development and promotion of sustainable agricultural practices. Sime Darby Plantation has developed guidelines that surpass the industry norm regarding environment, biodiversity and employees.
On 10 December 2011, SDPL was forced to temporarily lay off 900 of its contracted and daily-hired workers due to safety reasons. Roads were blocked and machines owned by SDPL were forced to shut down as a result of intense pressure and aggression from certain quarters. SDPL, working closely with the Presidential Elected Committee comprising five government ministries, GCM Caucus and Head of Traditional Counsel, swiftly resolved the issues with the local communities allowing the workers to resume work the next day. SDPL would like to thank the parties involved for bringing this issue to an amicable solution that benefits all parties.
The erroneous reports by The News are as follows:
The News reported a riot which led to the seizure of SDPL’s earth moving equipment and its keys by some angry GCM citizens. It further reported that the keys were then handed over to GCM Senator-elect, Edward Boakai Dagoseh, following the intervention of Green Advocates International lead campaigner Cllr. Alfred Lahai Brownell.
SDPL would like to assert that no riots occurred, and that the keys were collected by Senator Edward Boakai Dagoseh himself without any assistance from Alfred Brownell.
The News reported that the Government team mediating in the issue had asked SDPL to cease its expansion project until after it has had a meeting with the affected citizens on Thursday 9 December.
SDPL had been given the approval to resume operations with immediate effect following the meeting with the citizens on Sunday evening (5 December).
The News quoted citizens' representative M. Foboi as saying the citizens were not aware of Sime Darby’s existence in their county.
SDPL has been actively and regularly engaging the citizens of GCM for the last 18 months, and has had several ceremonies to announce its presence in Liberia, including the official opening of the Matambo Estate, graced by the Vice-President, Senators and Superintendents.
According to The News SDPL invaded the citizens’ forest without any regard for their tradition and culture, polluted their drinking water source, cleared their farmland which caused hardship and untold suffering for community members who depend on farming to survive, and destroyed forest products that they depend on for medicinal purposes. Mr. Brownell was also quoted as stating that SDPL’s operations have destroyed gravesites, poro and sande societies, and demanded appropriate compensation for their damaged crops.
SDPL has never evicted any land owners nor illegally relocated any residents during the land clearing process. SDPL does not practice nor condone land grabbing in Liberia or anywhere it operates.
It will only proceed with development once Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has been obtained from the local communities, a requirement under the New Planting Procedures (NPP) of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and under Article 32 of UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. Where appropriate, compensation is paid out to landowners whose land is being developed.
SDPL lays down the compensation plan for the land owners during the many engagement sessions. Land owners are compensated for each palm, banana, kola and other tree that is within their own land boundary, with as much as US$6.00 per plant. As of 30 September 2011, it had paid USD1,348,978.94 as crop compensation to 2,132 farmers who had agreed to let their land be developed, after negotiations were completed.
SDPL does not clear virgin forests. The concession area is mostly abandoned agricultural land and degraded forests that were neglected during the civil wars. For example, some of SDPL’s current rubber estates still contain trees that were planted in the 1960’s. While these trees are still producing latex, their age limits productivity.
It is Sime Darby Plantation’s policy to conserve high conservation value forests (HCVF), which is part of the New Planting Procedures (NPP) of the RSPO. These guidelines and policies are applicable in all Sime Darby Plantation operations regardless of their geography.
Social & Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA) are undertaken as a standard operating procedure before any development begins. Areas regarded as HCVF will be identified and maintained. Where necessary, land has been set aside for farming activities. As one of the founding members of RSPO, Sime Darby Plantation's commitment towards sustainable plantation practices includes maintaining HCVF in its estates.
The following areas will not be developed:
i. natural forests within the estates
ii. swamp areas
iii. river boundaries
iv. water catchments and effluent pond areas
v. marginal soil areas
vi. areas with slopes of more than 20 degrees gradient
vii. land belonging to local indigenous peoples
SDPL also ensures that local communities benefit from employment opportunities and assist in improving infrastructure, amenities and schools. Furthermore, as palm trees usually do not bear fruit for three years after planting, SDPL will compensate its planters, smallholders and growers for these first three years so they can depend on steady and reliable income. This way, SDPL contributes to their wellbeing and that of their families, while ensuring that its plantations are developed responsibly and sustainably.
SDPL reiterates that it operates by respecting not only the local laws of Liberia and the Principles and Criteria of RSPO, but also the traditions and practices of the people of Liberia.
SDPL continues to believe in the future of Liberia and is committed to implementing the best agricultural and management practices employed by Sime Darby Plantation in all its operations globally.