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16 Mar 2023

Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi & Kevin Woke, Farmland grab

Nigeria: Investigation reveals how agro-industrial giant Belgian based company SIAT, contaminates streams and rivers as well as land grabbing

‘SIAT Nigeria land grabbing, pollution, causing hardship in host communities’ March 2023

A 5-month investigation by Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi and Kevin Woke revealed how SIAT Nigeria Limited is grabbing host communities' lands and paying them only six hundred Naira (N600) per hectare annually. This is three times less the amount of what land owners typically pay to neighbouring villages to buy a ridge of farmland for a farming season. The company's operations have contaminated the streams and rivers that serve as the majority's supply of drinking water. In October 2019, Emmanuel Emeka, a fisherman in Mgbu-Anyim village had gone to fish at the mini- Onua, mini-Igwe and mini-Igbu rivers in Elele Alimini of Rivers State, only to see dead fishes floating on the surface of the river. SIAT Nigeria Limited, a Belgian company, has polluted the river with its fertilisers and chemicals used for weed and pest control, he alleged.

…The decline in fish populations in the river prompted some elderly people in the community to look into and identify the source. According to Emeka, they discovered that the chemical SIAT sprayed on their palm trees and the ground to control weeds, pests, and increase yields is the main culprit. Sa SIAT nv, a Belgian agro-industrial business that specialises in the production of palm oil, is the sole owner of SIAT Nigeria Ltd. (SNL). A total of 16,000 hectares of land were gathered in the communities of Elele and Ubima for oil palm plantations when the business acquired Risonpalm in 2011 from the Rivers State…Local leaders protested in 2020 and 2021 over the company's land grab and disregard for the host communities after SIAT asked for their bank account information and failed to give them the money they had verbally promised. Joseph said: "During the protest, we requested they sign a fresh agreement because we don't have any agreement with SIAT. Even the rent they claim they have paid, we don't have any document to support that claim.

…An employee of SIAT, who asked to remain anonymous to protect themselves from further retaliation from the company, told the reporters that the company utilises chemical fertiliser to maintain the palm plantation, which aids in the growth of the palm fruits and protects them from pests…NESREA, a government agency, whose responsibilities include protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation, enforcement and ensuring companies comply with environmental laws denied knowledge of environmental pollution in the communities. Zonal Director, Nosa Aigbedion demanded the community to write a formal letter to the agency… All efforts made to reach the company for comment were abortive. Neither did the Public Relations Manager, Lucky Ezihuo respond to our Whatsapp message despite reading it nor was the email sent to the company responded.