A conducive environment and government interest are factors that have contributed to the resurgence of the oil palm industry in Nigeria, though “cycles of tragedy [are] often caught up with those who learnt nothing from previous occurrences”, said Sylvester Akhaine from Lagos State University. The absence of clear policy on environment and human security issues in agricultural regulations of central authorities and state governments in relation to oil palm production, has led to negative impacts on land and people.
This analysis of colonial experience in oil palm trade revealed an intriguing concern regarding displacement of local communities, by showing a willingness to avoid the forceful removal of people from their land. However, post-colonial governments were drawn by the economic benefits of oil palm production and neglected to consider the impact on indigenous people and ecosystems they lived in. Special attention was raised by civil society organisations (CSOs) and NGOs on oppressive processes of land acquisition and shady negotiations between oil palm companies and governments, along with unfair labour practices imposed on local people.
In Cross River State, the richest rainforest region in Nigeria, this policy review showed that there are no clear governance guidelines in the oil palm sector, apart from expanding production to generate more resources. At federal level, the Presidential Initiative for Vegetable Oil Development (VODEP) policy and Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) programme indicated poor continuity due to the speed of policy transition. Cross River State government is inclined to sacrifice its well-crafted poverty alleviation programmes like Cross River Agricultural and Rural Empowerment Scheme (CARES), to support multinational oil palm companies who are in a scramble for the oil palm belt. Other legal instruments include the Land Use Act (1978), the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (1992), and Cross River State Forestry Commission Law No.3 (2010) but which are now at variance with agribusiness that can explain the dispute between companies like PZ Wilmar and local communities.
The missing link between policy, the need for investment and the wellbeing of the forest people in the state, therefore, calls for the necessity to mainstream environment and human security issues in memorandums of understanding between government and oil palm companies, and to advocate with governments so they appreciate the centrality of people in the policy process.