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Posted on Jul 15, Included in Bulletin While palm oil companies present themselves as benevolent donors during the pandemic, communities living in and around these plantations tell another story. Ph: Farmlandgrab.
In the middle of a health crisis, palm oil companies are presenting themselves as benevolent donors, with marketing campaigns directed at the national and international media. This is the case in West and Central African countries where these companies operate.
Sincethe oil palm industry has targeted West and Central Africa for a new wave of expansion of its industrial plantations. At that time, estimates amounted to around 4 million hectares of land locked up in large-scale concessions to oil palm companies, particularly in Cameroon, the DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
They began to discuss how they could better organize and resist this invasion. In their years working together, members of the Alliance have shared and learned from each other about the many tactics that oil palm companies use to commit illegal and oppressive acts to impose and expand their business. This devastating aspect of industrial oil palm plantations is usually kept hidden.
In this context, the WRM asked organisations and activists engaged in the Informal Alliance about how the situation in and around industrial oil palm plantations has evolved since the Covid pandemic started; and with governments across the region implementing so-called emergency measures to confront it.
This article highlights their experiences. Testimonies are kept anonymous for security reasons. The company fired several community residents without prior notification, citing lockdown measures as the reason. The workers who still have jobs are not given protective gear to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus.
The situation is difficult for communities living around and within the industrial plantations. The situation we are Lady wants casual sex Plantation in has been going on for decades, and nobody does anything—despite the presence of the company, PalmCi. Now with Covid, I can say that the situation is even more disturbing, given that we drink the same water as the animals that roam everywhere looking for food.
The worst part of all of this is the water that PalmCi provides us with once or twice a week, because it divides the village in order to distribute it. The water arrives in very dirty tanker trucks and is not suitable, as it makes our whole body Lady wants casual sex Plantation after we bathe. That same tanker truck supplies water to the plantations. I can say then that the people of Yapokro were not safe before, and we are not safe now with Covid It is discouraging to see women and children fetch water morning and afternoon.
The attempts to get PalmCi to bring us water were unsuccessful; the village chief told me so. He made several complaints, but they were not successful, or sometimes led to promises that were never fulfilled. I always get the same answer: that it is the regional council that should take care of this and not PalmCi, which is just a company. When it rains, the whole village rejoices because the women go to collect rainwater that for domestic tasks and other uses.
Daily life for villagers in Yapokro is alarming; they are simply looking for a solution by launching a call for help through my voice. Women involved in the Alliance have been focusing on the matter of abuse that women suffer, due to the existence of the plantations.
In particular, they have focused on the violence faced by women who produce traditional palm oil and who are regularly harassed and intimidated by company guards. Two women were recently arrested in Ivory Coast, allegedly for stealing palm fruits. They worked for the company, and were fired due to the Covid situation. A few days after their dismissal, they were arrested. I asked what he apologized for.
PalmCi is insensitive and does nothing at all, except for firing people unfairly. Covid and PalmCi are a cancer to communities in the region. Company agents take the view that the plantation is company property and that for any material taken from the plantations, people have to pay a fee at the checkpoint set up at the entrance of the plantations — or leave their material behind. Unsurprisingly, conflicts around these demands for payment at the checkpoints regularly occur.
In Gabon, a public-private partnership between agribusiness multinational, Olam, and the Gabonese government began setting up industrial plantations inon land received for free from the government. Of the plantations established so far, six blocks are oil palm plantations and one is a rubber plantation.
Therefore, those who were not able to get on the vehicle got lower wages. And now, the latest news from the provincial labor directorate is that around 1, employees—mainly agricultural workers—are going to lose their jobs. In other words, Olam is taking advantage of this crisis to get rid of those employees and hand them off to subcontractors.
And unfortunately, the subcontractors treat them even worse. With Olam, the treatment already was not what it should be […], and with the subcontractors it is even worse! It is really worrisome. Now, we know that because of the pandemic, the State made some decisions and took some measures to support companies that will have problems. But Olam is going beyond all of that.
And as a result, jobs will be lost in order to benefit subcontractors, who do not treat the workers better. There are communities where Olam had built water wells. But unfortunately those wells do not work anymore, the pumps do not work. Some worked for a month or two, and then stopped. And people suffer from a lack of water, which is crucial—since we know that washing your hands with clean water is, of course, one of the measures to prevent Covid As for the clinics, they were built without medications being available; therefore we have no medications.
This means that if there is a positive case or someone gets sick, people will only have traditional treatments. And speaking of traditional treatments, since many communities lost their forested areas, they no longer Lady wants casual sex Plantation access to the forest. Well, things will be difficult. With no healthcare and no forests, how will they be treated? It will be very difficult for them. Two major corporate players operate in Nigeria, where communities are being evicted, harassed and arrested. Their rights are being severely undermined by the conversion of farmland and forests to oil palm plantations.
Wilmarone of the biggest plantation companies in the world, has more thanhectares of land in Cross River State; meanwhile Socfin operates in Edo State.
Socfin controls a total ofhectares of land in 10 African countries. This time, over 80 people ended up homeless and were forced to seek shelter in nearby communities and churches. This, in turn, exposed them to even greater health risks during a global pandemic. As they were coming, they were shooting so I ran into the bush. Then they burned down our houses all my school books, school uniform and other properties were burnt down. This is the only piece of clothing left on my body.
So let people come and help us. In Ghana, industrial oil palm plantations owned by Socnaf another Socfin -owned company affect nine communities. The company says it has acquired concession rights to 17, hectares, but communities argue that more land has been taken from them. It made a system, where it hires them as casual workers for three months, then renews them for three more months, and then three more months; it has been like this for the past six years.
In Ghana, if a company hires someone for more than three months, that person becomes a worker and is no longer a casual worker. And now, Covid comes up. Because it has to follow social distancing, Socfin has actually released, if not sacked, all those casual workers without any prior notice, without any payments. I have witnessed this personally. I was there. He saw his motorbike seized and broken by security guards.
The issue is at the local court at the moment. In CameroonSocapalm another Socfin -owned company is one of the main oil palm plantation companies in the country.
Villages are completely surrounded by Socapalm plantations, and villagers have no access to land to cultivate food. Because of the size of the trenches that the company dug around its plantations, many villagers have to walk more than seven kilometres to get to a field where they can cultivate food.
If anyone picks up a palm fruit fallen from the Socapalm truck, they risk being arrested. In this period of Covid, many workers have been sent home on unpaid leave without compensation, especially those who are temporarily employed. In some countries, workers commute every day between big cities, like Douala in Cameroon, and the plantations. This poses risks for workers, their families and also the villagers. They witness the company violating their rights and denying their access to land that they depend on for their livelihood.
Under conditions of the Covid pandemic, the situation has become outright unbearable for many. In the DR of Congoin the midst of the Covid pandemic, disputed concession rights to more thanhectares of land held by the Congolese company, Plantations et Huileries du Congo PHCare being handed over to an opaque company registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. They say the communities never consented to the theft of their palm groves by industrial oil palm plantation companies.
Just a few months ago, several of the houses that the company provides to workers collapsed at one of the three plantation sites, in Boteka. Conflicts have been numerous and deadly; the latest victim was a community activist killed by a company security guard in Communities in the Basoko area at the Lokutu plantation site made an important step in recovering their ancestral land in earlywhen they successfully started to take back control Lady wants casual sex Plantation parts of their territory.
When, under the guise of Covid pandemic measures, the company started again delaying payments of wages and restricting availability of palm oil for villages surrounded by the plantations, communities started to take palm oil production into their own hands. They introduced traditional and artisanal palm oil harvesting and production systems. Working conditions are now much better in these areas than when they were managed by Feronia.
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