Liberia: the growth of a new palm oil frontier

The Guardian | 20 October 2016

by Clair MacDougall
With a sweat slicked forearm, Bacchus Wilson Panyonnoh hacks away the vines that snake over a young oil palm tree. He knows the rhythm of a whipping cutlass, the oppressive tropical heat that clings like a second skin and the dull sting of calloused hands well.
The 35-year-old comes from a long line of farmers and hunters from the remote forests of south-eastern Liberia. But instead of cutting back relentless jungle in search of farmland or bushmeat, Panyonnoh moves between rows of stout trees on what is set to become the largest palm plantation in Liberia.  Panyonnoh is one of more than 3,700 Liberians working for Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a company whose main investor is one of the most powerful palm oil outfits in the world, Singapore-based Golden Agri-Resources.
“I do slashing on the field. I brush. I brush all day,” says Panyonnoh. “I’m happy because other people are looking for a job. They cannot get a job.”

 Panyonnoh is a high school graduate who became a teacher in a government school. But with poor and irregular pay, and a wife and three young children to support, he needed a more stable income. He took a job with GVL two years ago and now earns more and can better provide for his family, he says.
Rise of palm oil in civil war-scarred Liberia
 Panyonnoh’s homeland is a new frontier for the ubiquitous red oil, an ingredient central to a plethora of consumer goods, including cosmetics, soap and the cooking oil itself.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost one third of the population is under the age of 10 (pdf), and more than half cannot meet their basic needs. Food poverty is a major problem, particularly in rural areas, where insecure employment is staggeringly high.

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