More than 90% of the Nigerian landscape has been cleared for agriculture, leading to negative social and environmental impacts. Although indigenous communities, with the help of civil society organisations (CSOs), NGOs and academia have been making major efforts in calling attention to the issue, they are still struggling to have their voices heard due to a significant lack of capacity and resources for advocacy purpose, according to Fidelis Allen, Acting Director of Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, Nigeria.
In Cross River State, land and the people are facing serious threats from land grabbing, deforestation and biodiversity loss. The intensity of conflict between communities and CSOs on the one hand and oil palm companies and the state government on the other hand has escalated dramatically. The main reasons are insufficient consultation with local people, violation of extant laws and policies, and destruction of high conservation value forest areas. It can be clearly seen that improper governance of the oil palm industry, with corporations increasingly searching for investment opportunities to expand their landholdings in Nigeria, is happening at the expense of indigenous communities.
In the midst of this conflict, CSOs and academia have been actively working together to help communities and bring the issues into the limelight. However, their efforts still remain rudimentary due to several obstacles. Research is a key need, but they lack in-house research capacity and financial resources to fill all of the gaps in required knowledge, and to engage researchers on a regular basis. In addition, questions and fears of what the industry would do to local farming populations and their forests in Nigeria have received only limited academic attention to date. Community leaders also do not have adequate advocacy skills and gender and conflict sensitivities have not yet received sufficient attention.
Allen therefore recommends that NGOs, CSOs and academia establish a coalition specifically for research, advocacy and capacity building purposes. Other crucial actions that are also needed are to develop a mechanism for sharing analysis and actions on regular basis, and to reduce gender inequality and avoid physical violence in the struggle for best practices in large scale agriculture sector.