What follows is a brief description of the oil palm issue in Liberia. After reading it, we invite you to send us comments.
Oil palm in Liberia
The oil palm tree is native to large parts of Liberia, where the climate provides the hot and tropical conditions under which the palm tree flourishes. The interior is heavily forested and has hills and mountains reaching 1,380 m of elevation. These hilly areas are very suitable for some economic trees and tree crops, as well as for agro-forestry practices. In fact, the interior areas have a long tradition of cultivating oil palm.
Half of Liberia’s palm oil is produced by 220,000 women and men on small farms, harvested from forests where it grows abundantly. However, it is mostly the women who carry out the task of processing the oil palm fruit into red palm oil, using traditional methods. Recently, USAID and Winrock International have promoted the use of what they have termed the “Freedom Mill”, which is a more efficient way for extracting the oil from the fruit. It would be good to know what Liberian women think about this new development, which could weaken women’s traditional role in the production of palm oil.
The rest of the palm oil produced in the country comes from more than 70,000 hectares of oil palm plantations which started to be established in the 1970s. 
Over the past few years, Liberia has been targeted by oil palm corporations for the establishment of large scale plantations. Such are the cases of Golden VerOleum (Indonesia), Equatorial Palm Oil (UK) and Sime Darby (Malaysia).
The push for the expansion of oil palm plantations is described in a 2008 government “submission to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility”, which states that “the Liberia Government is inundated with requests for … expansion of oil palm plantations for biofuel production …” 
Although the government recognizes that forests “may potentially be converted to other land use after harvesting” and that “the pressure for conversion will arise as investors in rubber and oil palm plantations, including biofuels, seek areas for new concessions”, oil palm investments are receiving strong support from the Liberian government, as well as from influential agencies such as USAID and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). 
The World Bank is also involved in the promotion of oil palm in Liberia. In 2008, the World Bank’s International Financial Corporation (IFC), presented the government with the findings of a study that reviewed the country’s oil palm sector, assessing its competitiveness and identifying potential investment opportunities. A press release quoted IFC resident representative Jumoke Jagun as saying that the sector has potential “to attract significant private investment, and to be a key driver of inclusive growth, development and job creation for the country.” 
An important event in this process of creating enabling conditions for the expansion of oil palm plantations was the two-day workshop held in Monrovia in January 2010, whose aim was “to link key oil palm industry stakeholders … and draw a master plan for Liberia’s oil palm industry.” The workshop was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with Mercy Corps, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Winrock International, and was sponsored by USAID, USDA and the Oil Palm Association of Liberia (OPAL).
The “key oil palm industry stakeholders” are at the present the following:
1) Sime Darby: Malaysian company that in 2009 signed a 63-year concession agreement with the Liberian government. According to the agreement, the company has been granted a concession of 220,000 hectares – in Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount and Bong counties- where it will establish oil palm and rubber plantations. About 80 percent of the land -some 180,000 hectares- will be dedicated to oil palm. Of the total concession area, 120,000 hectares was originally provided for under the original agreement with another Malaysian company (Guthrie Company), and an additional 100,000 hectares has been provided to Sime Darby through the recent agreement.  
2) Equatorial Palm Oil: Company based in the United Kingdom. The company has a total land holding of 169,000 hectares – in Grand Bassa, River Cess and Sinoe counties- of which 89,000 hectares were acquired through concession agreements with the Liberian government and the remainder through an earlier stage memorandum of intent with an internal Liberian group. At the moment, the company has 10,000 hectares planted with oil palm. 
3) Golden Agri Resources: Singapore-listed company belonging to the Indonesian Sinar Mas Group. The company is in the final stages of negotiating a concession agreement with the Liberian government. Veroleum plans to cultivate over 240,000 hectares of oil palm in southeastern Liberia, specifically in Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland counties (including 40,000 hectares via out growers), with the goal of producing more than one million tons of palm oil per annum.
In total, the three foreign companies would have 629,000 hectares of land under oil palm plantations, which is a huge amount of land in a country such as Liberia, whose total land area expands over some 11 million hectares.