“In the competition between forest conservation and oil palm plantation expansion in Nigeria, the losers appear to be indigenous communities” said Abiodun Baiyewu-Teru, Country Director of Global Rights Nigeria. It is evident that the negative impacts of oil palm production on local people, particularly women and children, far outweigh the benefits that come with it.
The rich biodiversity of Nigeria once vast forests is fast disappearing due largely to the development of oil palm plantations. While the federal and state governments appear interested in conserving remaining rainforest areas, they also desperately want to boost the economic gains for the state and therefore, end up between two conflicting priorities - conservation and agricultural development. However, the human factor seems to be forgotten in the process, as both companies and governments fail to engage with communities in obtaining their free, prior and informed consent, by only consulting community chiefs rather than a larger and more democratic representation of the entire community. In addition, oil palm companies often ignore compulsory environmental and social impact assessments, which are explicitly required by law.
Among those who suffer most from negative impacts, Baiyewu emphasized that they are mostly indigenous peoples and the most vulnerable, including women and children. Gender inequality remains an issue, and land grabbing takes away women’s rights to be consulted and compensated. Barred from accessing forest resources, women are less able to practice subsistence farming and meet the nutritional needs of their families. Finding another occupation is a challenge for them and even when they are recruited for work in plantations, they earn much less than when managing their own smallholder farmlands. As a result, this deepens women’s dependence on men and broadens the gender gap. Children may then be withdrawn from school, engaged in child labour and suffer malnutrition. Moreover, environmental shifts may lead to increased labour, reduced productivity and health and human wellbeing issues.
“At the heart of law, development, governance and business lies people and communities”, noted Baiyewu. It is thus important that the government takes this into account, to prevent growing negative impacts of oil palm plantations by prioritizing the rights and welfare of its people in the quest for economic development.