WDA23: PCI appeal focuses palm oil impact

16.12.2023 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Church in Society, World Development Appeal, Resources

With the displacement of people in Sierra Leone’s tropical forests continuing, families are having to start their lives from scratch as a result of the practices of multinational palm oil companies and local collaborators. This year’s Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) World Development Appeal (WDA), will provide support and training to enable those who have been forced off their land to rebuild their lives.

For over 40 years, in the run up to Christmas and over New Year, the Church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland have come together to support the annual appeal. Assisting the work of PCI’s relief and development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund in a number of countries across the globe, this year’s lead project is a Christian Aid programme that seeks to lessen the economic and humanitarian effect of the ongoing injustice around palm oil production in the West African nation.

More than 30,000 people in over 50 villages in Malen chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s Pujehun district have been impacted by arrival of a multinational-owned palm oil plantation over a decade ago. The 12,000 acre plantation has also been blamed for the pollution of the local environment as well as the destruction of farmland.

As Rev Liam Rutherford, convener of PCI’s World Development Appeal Committee explained, while congregations are being asked to support the Appeal, which is entitled, ‘Starting from Scratch: Hope for the Displaced’, the Church is also asking people more widely to consider the impact of their actions as consumers, if the palm oil that they use is not sustainably sourced.

“In many countries around the world, large European-based multinational companies are buying up, or leasing land, for palm oil plantations, often with the support of local agencies and village elders, with little or no regard for the people who live on that land and rely on it for their livelihoods,” he said.

“Through Christian Aid and their partners, the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, and local development agency, Green Scenery, the generosity of Irish Presbyterians will make a difference to the lives of many, especially women, in helping them to rebuild their lives and start from scratch,” the minister of Ballydown Presbyterian Church near Banbridge continued.

From soap to lipsticks, vegetable oil to detergents, and much more besides, nearly half of all supermarket products (www.ethicalconsumer.org) contain palm oil, or some trace of it. Christian Aid's Head of Fundraising, Ruth Cooke, who met a number of women impacted by the palm oil plantation in Sierra Leone, said, "To assist 300 women who were forced to abandon their homes following the arrival of the plantation, money raised by the PCI World Development Appeal will fund a village savings and loan scheme.

“I saw for myself how the scheme makes a real difference to the lives of the women by giving them access to the cash they need to set up businesses as well as to pay for essential costs during emergencies. The appeal is highlighting an overlooked injustice in Sierra Leone, as well as going a long way to support these women to be better able to provide for their families.”

One of those women currently supported by the village saving and loan’s scheme is Hawa Sannoh. Hawa explained that she was forced to flee with her three children to a neighbouring village, because of the palm oil plantation: “I left Malen because the chief took my father’s farmland. His land was sold without his consent. He used to have lots of land, which he would grow palm oil, fruit and vegetables. He was left with nothing.”

Talking about the voluntary savings and loan scheme on a specially commissioned video for the Appeal, (see below) Hawa said the scheme and training had, “…done a whole lot of work for me, including my children as well…I am saying a very big thank you to all of them for what they have done…Before this time, I was a nobody in the community with nothing to get for myself I’m now able to take up my own responsibility and do so many things on my own.”

Rev Richard Kerr, convener of PCI’s Council for Global Mission Global Concerns Committee, was part of the team that visited Sierra Leonne with Ruth Cooke and videographer Chris Nelson in April, to see first-hand the impact of the plantation. “While you would be surprised to find palm oil in some of the products we use, many people will also be surprised to discover the very real human cost of its manufacture,” he said.

The minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church continued, “The majority of villagers had been poorly compensated for their loss, with one farmer receiving compensation equivalent to only 7 acres of the 30 acres that he and his family lost, which was not untypical. Loss of land meant loss of livelihood for these subsistence farmers, with women disproportionately affected,” he said.

“During our visit we met women who had been displaced by the plantation and consequently found it difficult to make ends meet. However, I saw for myself the impact of schemes that give women the money they need to start up small businesses and provide for their families. The World Development Appeal will make all the difference.”

Talking about this year’s Appeal, PCI’s Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney, said, “It is never easy starting from scratch, especially if the reason you have to is completely out of your control. I was genuinely shocked and angry to hear what is happening. On a human level this is about livelihoods destroyed, families broken up, and dreams dashed. At the same time, it is a matter of justice with those perpetrating the injustice, either by direct abuse of their position, or by turning a blind eye.

“As a minister, I am thankful that each World Development Appeal gives us a focus beyond ourselves as global disciples of Jesus Christ, when through prayer and financial support, we can make a difference. I am also thankful that the Prophet Isaiah tells us that “the Lord is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18), that God loves justice (v 61:8), who will one day rightly administer justice to all.”

The Moderator concluded by saying, “As has often been said, the WDA is a great opportunity for us as a Church to join with Christian Aid Ireland and Tearfund in their life-saving and life-affirming work. I am confident that my brothers and sisters in Christ, throughout PCI, will respond with grace and generosity.”

Primarily for Presbyterians, the WDA normally raises between £300,000 (€349,800) and £500,000 (€583,000) to support life-changing sustainable development projects in some of the poorest communities and disadvantaged places on the planet. This year the Appeal will also support Tearfund projects, including those in Bangladesh, working through the local church to equip communities to reduce the impact of climate related disasters. A proportion of PCI funding will also be set aside for the Church’s international partners’ development projects.

For more information on the World Development Appeal, Palm Oil production and how to donate visit this part of the website.

Images: (1) Launching the 2023 Presbyterian Church in Ireland World Development Appeal are (left to right) Rev Liam Rutherford, convener of PCI’s World Development Appeal Committee, Rosamond Bennett, Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland, PCI's Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, Chris Thompson, Tearfund Northern Ireland Director, and Rev Dr Liz Hughes, Chair of Christian Aid Ireland (2) Hawa Sannoh, who has benefited from the scheme that the World Development Appeal will support with her family (credit Chris Nelson) (3) Rev Richard Kerr, minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church, and convener of PCI’s Global Concerns Committee, in Sierra Leone earlier this year (credit Chris Nelson) (4) Videographer Chris Nelson and Rev Richard Kerr, listen to Christian Aid’s Ruth Cooke talk about their visit to Sierra Leone in April of this year during a Q&A session at the launch of the World Development Appeal.

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