Land Grabs having ‘devastating impact on women and girls’

Statement by Dorothy Kwennah Toomann Executive Director, Development Education Network Liberia:

“Land grab by multinational companies through the Liberian Government is having devastating impact particularly on Liberian women and girls particularly those who farming is the only source of their livelihood.

Most women and girls in our county continue to live with the realities of violence of all types and taking away their land (also the source their existence) leaves them with no hope and means for survival and this undermine sustainable peace and development in Liberia.

We call on the People and Government of Ireland, who stood with Liberia and its people during and after our civil crisis for a better Liberia, to join President Michael D. Higgins’ call to action at the Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice conference in Dublin Castle this week.

We must take joint actions to address the ‘structural issues within the global financial arrangement’ in our one world that are undermining women, peace and security through accelerating land grabs in Liberia and the rest of the Global South.”

Dorothy Kwennah Toomann

Executive Director, Development Education Network-Liberia  

Irish Government must act on President Higgins’ call to tackle unfair trade relations that facilitate ‘land grab’

President Michael D. Higgins opened the Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice conference in Dublin Castle this week with a clear and unequivocal call to action which tackles the ‘structural issues within the global financial arrangement’ that are accelerating land grabs across the Global South.

Land grabs involve a large scale land acquisition by a multinational company which is carried out without the consultation or consent of the communities affected. The dispossession of farming communities and the removal of community rights to natural resources are defining features of these land deals.

Consequently, local food sovereignty is destroyed, food insecurity is heightened and, as President Higgins highlights, ‘capital is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations’ with detrimental effects for just and sustainable development across the South.

President Higgins calls for a ‘robust regulatory framework’ that is ‘developed collaboratively and transparently involving practitioners from developing countries, […] and which is respectful of, and responsive to, their lived experiences.’

The Irish Government, through its presidency of the EU has a moral responsibility to ensure the President’s words do not ring hallow for those communities worst affected by unfair trade arrangements.

‘The source of [this] hunger is not a lack of food, but the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities across the world – inequalities of power, economics and technology’, notes President Higgins. These inequalities are sustained by EU policies.

Silas Siakor, campaigner with the Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia, highlights that ‘Ireland’s trade and foreign policies must reflect these realisations.

‘Ireland must also use the EU Presidency to promote Europe-wide policies and actions to tackle the corporate greed that reinforces and sustains unequal power, economic and political relations between Europe and Africa.’

Liberia is facing some of the worst effects of these land deals. Over half of Liberia’s land area is now given over by the Government to rubber, oil palm and logging companies.

The situation facing communities many communities in Liberia impacted by ‘land grab’ is dire. ‘The plantation is on their doorsteps, and their farms and farmlands are being swallowed up by it,’ highlights Siakor, whose organisation is directly supporting many affected communities. ‘There are very few alternative livelihood options once the deal has dispossessed communities.’

For Liberia, and states across the Global South, there is an urgent need to tackle these issues.

‘The Irish Government must act now to make President Higgins’ words a reality,’ says Jamie Gorman of the Liberia Solidarity Group.

‘There are clear steps which the Government can take, starting with a rejection of the Free Trade Agreement model and the implementation of alternative trade models which support human rights and sustainable development.’

Liberia Solidarity Group Recommendations from our report, The Free Trade Trap: Are EU polices trading justice for profit?

1. Reject the Free Trade Agreement model of trade liberalisation.

2. Champion alternative trade models which support human rights and sustainable development.

3. Ensure policy coherence for sustainable and just development across trade, food, agriculture, energy and climate change policies.

4. Incorporation of the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights into Irish and EU trade policy with the Global South.

5. Ensure all policies and practices are proofed to guarantee their contribution to full and substantive equality for women and girls.

Ireland should wield moral muscle on trade

ImageJacinta Fay

LSG trade justice project co-ordinator

EU and Irish trade policies are undermining sustainable development in the Global south. We need a change from the current approach which is resulting in growth without development for these countries. The Irish Government has committed to advancing EU trade negotiations and supporting the World Trade Organisation and the multilateral trading system, including the Doha Round of negotiations, during their EU Presidency. This ignores growing both concern about this model of global trade, based on trade liberalisation, and the fact that these priorities undermine both Irish and EU development policies.

The EU use bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements to secure market access and cheap supplies of raw materials for European companies

EU trade policies seek to expand trade between Europe and other parts of the world. They follow an aggressive competitiveness strategy and use bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements to secure market access and cheap supplies of raw materials for European companies. They pursue an agenda of trade liberalisation which encourages countries of the Global South to open up their markets to international trade. This is to be achieved by reducing tariffs and quotas on goods coming in, increasing rights for investors, privatising industries and services, and reducing support to domestic producers.

Loss of tariff revenue as a result of trade liberalisation leads to a reduction in public revenue in developing countries. As a result, they continue to rely on development assistance for essential services such as health and education. Opening up markets negatively impacts on local producers as cheap goods from Northern countries flood markets.

In the agricultural sector this has had a particularly detrimental effect on food sovereignty. Small scale and subsistence farmers are unable to compete with subsidised agricultural imports from Europe and other regions. European Commission impact assessments have acknowledged that Economic Partnership Agreements, for example, could lead to the collapse of the manufacturing sector in West Africa.

Irish trade and development policies mirror EU policies and prioritise the opening up of new markets and a substantial role for the private sector in development cooperation. The primary concern of initiatives appears to be how Irish business can profit in Africa rather than underlining the need for ethical trade and sustainable development which would support local economies.

In Liberia the result of such policies has been land grabbing and human rights violations by extractive industries and agribusinesses. Transnational corporations lease large tracts of land to cultivate rubber and oil palm, preventing their use for food production. Rubber, oil palm and logging plantations, known as ‘concessions’ currently cover approximately 2,546,406 hectares or 25% of the country.  Hundreds of thousands of Liberian citizens live in districts that were granted to companies however their input and consent was never directly sought.

These contracts cannot be implemented without violating the rights of local communities because operations encroach on their farmlands. This leads to significant loss of livelihoods and negative impacts on local economies. Land deals have become the new “Scramble for Africa”. 56.2 million hectares of agricultural land (roughly the size of Kenya) has been bought or leased by investors since 2000 for export-oriented projects which undermine food sovereignty, local industry and environmental sustainability.

EU trade policy puts corporate interests ahead of sustainable and inclusive development. However, there appears to be little consensus between EU institutions on the best approach. MEPs recently voted to reject the European Commission’s proposal to impose a unilateral deadline of 2014 on African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP) to sign trade agreements that are deemed unfair. The EU Council supported the European Commission’s position.

Ireland, as EU president, now plays a crucial role as chair of the Council of Ministers in negotiating a compromise between the EU Council and European Parliament. Irish and EU civil society organisations are urging the Irish government to ensure this negotiation results in a fair deal for ACP countries, sustainable development and more equitable relations between the EU and the Global South. This is an opportunity for Ireland to promote a global trade system that prioritises justice, equity and rights, fosters sustainable local economies and benefits the people of the Global South and the environment.

This article first appeared in Village, issue 22 (Apr-May 2013).