Seven years ago, I visited Liberia to meet with some of our partners and see their work in action supporting communities to protect their forests from destructive developments. The stark image of vast palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see is still etched in my mind. Visiting forest communities in tiny pockets of forest surrounded by immense monocultures was an eye-opener for me. I heard from skilled community members about how their only option these days was to carry out low paid manual work on plantations, listened to stories of increased crime and violence around plantations, and saw company markers designating plans for plantations across sacred sites where communities’ ancestors were buried. This experience helped bring to life the reality of the struggles communities are facing around the world to protect their territories, illustrating first hand some of the things we’d been hearing from our partners over the years.
The promise of ‘development’ and monoculture was also a promise of loss: of ecosystem loss, of biodiversity loss, of economic loss and of loss of culture, community, identity and self-determination.
Yet, on the same trip, I was captivated by the vast variety of colourful products communities sustainably harvest from their forests and I was given hope by the unwavering commitment of these frontline communities to stopping the expansion of industrial palm oil plantations, regardless of ‘development’ promises.
I returned from Liberia feeling ever more committed to supporting partners to challenge monocultures on their lands. But alongside this, I also felt energised to do more to also support the less ‘frontline’ aspects of their work to celebrate and revive indigenous and community lifeways and cultures, to support communities to unify around their own values and goals; and to support and promote an alternative development pathway from the industrial, capitalist model of economic growth.