Liberia’s total land area is approximately ten million hectares. Liberia currently has one of the highest land concession rates in Africa: almost40% of our nation’s land has already been promised to foreign investors for logging, palm and rubber plantations, and mining across all fifteen counties. Between 2004 and 2009, the Liberian government either granted or re-negotiated land and forestry concessions totaling 1.7 million hectares – over 15% of the total national land area. In 2010 alone, more than 661,000 hectares were granted to two foreign corporations for palm oil production. Today, even with a moratorium on public land sale in place, private investors continue to seek and acquire land concessions throughout the country.
Many fear such policies may lead to displacement and dispossession of communities, environmental degradation, increased competition for land, and an associated increase in land and resource conflict.
Liberia’s laws on land are contradictory and confusing. Some laws say the people own the land as communities, while other laws say that the state owns the land. Currently, the law authorizes the President to lease any portion of public lands “not appropriated for other purposes,” to any “individual, corporation or company for engaging in agricultural, mercantile, or mining operations in Liberia” for a period of up to 50 or more years.
To address these contradictions and legal ambiguities, in 2009 the government established the Liberian Land Commission to address land issues. The formation of the Land commission presents a unique opportunity to ensure that all Liberia’s land rights are protected for generation to come. This should include urban land rights and private land ownership for communities in rural areas.
The Land Commission was established to conduct research on the current state of land affairs in Liberia and initiate the process of drafting a new Liberian land policy. This policy will specifically address land ownership and use rights, government acquisition of private and customary land, and concessions. The Land Commission’s Land Policy will be presented to the people of Liberia for their input.
What’s at Stake?
The Land Commission’s draft policy is important for the future of the country as it will define land use, ownership, and rights, for generations to come.
Liberia is rich in natural and mineral resources. There are valuable deposits of iron ore, gold, and diamonds. The country has over 40% of West Africa’s rainforests, which are home to invaluable trees, plants, and endangered species.
It is important to protect the rights of all Liberians. From rural villagers who do not have papers for their land to urban dwellers who have poor land security to Liberian businesses that want to invest in the land to international investors that seek to help Liberia in its development.
The most recent draft of the Land Commission’s Land Policy defines use, access, and ownership rights over four basic categories of land in Liberia: Customary Land, Government Land, Public Land, Protected Land, and Private Land. While the current draft seeks to clarify the distinctions between these categories; there is still confusion concerning what is considered customary land, government land, and public land.
Some Outstanding Issues
• The government reserves the right to give public land as concessions, while public land remains unclearly defined.
• Government ownership of mineral deposits includes the ownership of sand.
• It remains unclear whether government land may include concessions which fall on private or customary land.
Given these critical unresolved challenges it is important for all Liberians to become involved. The outcomes of the Land Policy will affect Monrovians as it will define land rights in the city and in the rural communities where they continue to retain ties to the land. After all, this is our land and our future!
To learn more and become involved contact Sustainable Development Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com