The Struggle between the Powerful and the People: How Customary Communities Struggle for Land and Livelihoods

May 2019
Sustainable Development Institute

Liberia has long maintained a dual land tenure system over statutory and customary lands characterized by unclear terms of ownership. Most rural Liberians depend on common resources for their survival. These are largely communally owned, used and managed. But the Liberian government has effectively treated all un-deeded land as public land to be administered by the State. This has undermined the land rights of the majority. A nearly 100-year history of granting large-scale land concessions to foreign investors and national elites has weakened tenure security with communities’ customary lands often targeted for development by foreign investors. Liberia has made substantial efforts towards land reform but the continued expansion of concession areas, including land acquired for palm oil plantations, has exacerbated tensions between local communities, companies and the State, with increasing documented claims that communities’ lands have been appropriated against their will. Rapid palm oil plantation expansion has been accompanied by charges of human rights violations, deforestation and land grabbing.