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May 12 (GIN) – After years of fruitless court battles by small farmers against major multinational corporations,  the Jogbahn Clan across 11 villages in Liberia is celebrating victory over a British company which tried to clear them off their lands.

The celebration comes after months of advocacy by community members, the Sustainable Development Institute and Friends of the Earth Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has now committed to protecting over 20,000 hectares from further encroachment by Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO).

“The action from our Government is a positive step forward for communities here in Liberia where fifty percent of the land has been leased to corporations,” said Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor of Friends of the Earth Liberia. “Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a progressive practice where communities’ voices are really heard and their rights respected.”

Lands belonging to the Jogbahn Clan in Grand Bassa County were initially conceded by the government to the British palm oil company in a 40 year lease as part of the country’s pivot toward foreign investors. Adhering to World Bank recommendations, Liberia had passed 39 reforms easing the entry of investors and multinationals. As a result, reported the UK-based Bretton Woods Project, three foreign companies acquired 1.5 million acres in just a few years, taking away farms, resources and livelihoods from thousands of local people.

Similarly in Sierra Leone, sugar cane and oil palm investors have snapped up thousands of acres of prime farmland, the group noted.

Back in Liberia, the Palm Oil Company began clearing and planting from 2012 to 2013, asserting that residents had no legal title to the land. This clearing destroyed crops and farmland according to a media briefing by the Friends of the Earth.

Protestors were met by paramilitaries of the Liberia National Police. Some of the protestors were beaten as they attempted to file a complaint in Buchanan, the country capital.

Following the meeting with President Sirleaf Johnson, Chief Elder Chio Johnson declared victory and marked the occasion with local villagers. “Why should a company take away our livelihood?” he asked. “We come from this land. Everything our ancestors left us is preserved in the forest, so why should we give up our forest?”

Deyeatee Kardor, the Clan’s Chairlady picks leaves and describes the different medicines that they can be used for. She recounts how she and her family hid in the forest throughout the war and managed to survive.

The UK company, meanwhile, is reportedly hunkering down and seeking new ways to recoup the land. w/pix from Jogbahn Clan

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