Cross River farmers, Wilmar bicker over land grabbing claims
An 88-year-old widow, Mrs. Veronica Asuquo and some farmers in Akamkpa and Biase local Government Areas of Cross River State are alleging land grabbing and farm destruction by Wilmar International.
But Wilmar in a reaction, said there is no element of land grabbing or destruction of farmland through its farming activities in host communities of Akamkpa and Biase.
Speaking to newsmen in Akamkpa after a tour of the affected farms last week, the 88-year woman from Ayukaba Village, who is seeking N200 million compensation claimed that her farm was destroyed through a water channel.
She said: “What is destroyed is more than N200 million. We have complained to them but they have not done anything. I am not a stranger. So they cannot take my land and leave me to die hungry”.
Mr. Paul Asuquo, a farmer and son to the octogenarian who conducted some newsmen round the affected farm estate said the farm has a direct boundary with Wilmar. “Before now we did not have this. When they came in they decided to dig round their estate. From the time they tried controlling water from their estate and the company did not give us any outlet. If you look over there, you will see a big pond of water. The chemicals from the fertilizers they are using have killed nearly everything”.
The Coordinator of Community Forest Watch Nigeria, Dr. Maurice Olory also decried issues of land grabbing and farm destruction as alleged by the farmers and called for an urgent intervention.
In Ibogu Community in Biase, another farmer Williams Ojobe and Moses Amarikpo, the Director of Ibogo Youth Council also complained of Wilmar sacking them from their land, which they have been farming for over 50 years.
In a reaction, Wilmar which also took newsmen round their estate denied any wrong doing as claimed by the communities but insisted that they should come forward with their claims if any for verification.
The Sustainability Manager of Wilmar, Mr. Asen Ako said, “We would like to place on record that both Calaro Estate and Ibiae estates are long existing plantations set up by the State Government in 1954 and 1963 respectively. Biase Plantations Limited (BPL) through a state government privatization process purchased Ibiae Estate and Calaro Estate .
“We would also like to place on record that there has been no additional land acquisition from chiefs or any individual to increase the size of Calaro Estate beyond what was handed by the state government. Thus, it is completely impossible that anyone at Akamkpa or surrounding communities of Calaro Estate to claim that we have used chiefs to grab individual and family land to add to what the state handed to us. The statement that BPL used chiefs to grab individual and family land is therefore not valid”.
He submitted that Wilmar or BPL “does not use or discharge any toxic chemicals into nearby water bodies or the environment. All crop protection and crop nourishing compounds that are used in our operations are all approved for use in Nigeria by NAFDAC and are used in minimal extent after detailed analysis.
“BPL has also not discharged any effluent of any form to the environment since its inception. Our first palm oil mill is still undergoing test runs and is yet to start full scale commercial operations and hence no effluent discharges. Thus, saying that toxic chemicals have left our plantation to destroy palms, cassava, vegetables, etc. is not true as all agrochemicals used in our estates are also used by other agro-industries and local farmers and have not been proven to have such adverse effect on surrounding farms.
“No additional land has been acquired from chiefs or any individual to increase the size of Ibiae Estate beyond what was handed by the state government to BPL. Thus, it is completely untrue for anyone at Biase LGA or surrounding communities to Ibiae Estate to claim that we have used chiefs to grab individual and family land to add to what the state handed to us”.
On Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Ako said, “BPL has a robust CSR package for communities around its operation and this package is geared towards education, capacity building, health, employment, and economic development. In our support to education around our catchment area, to date, we have committed N253, 785,027 (Onun Secondary school Mbarakom); N116,574,542 (Camp II Primary School – 50per cent completed); N104,627,161.70 (Ibiae Primary School – 90per cent completed); N226,160,500 (Aningeje Secondary School – 75per cent completed)”.
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