Protecting the “Lungs of West Africa”

Source: New Internationalist

‘When we eat chocolate, fried chicken or ice cream, or apply nail varnish, it has consequences across the ocean because one of the main ingredients of all these products is palm oil,’ says Alfred Brownell, one of West Africa’s leading environmental and human rights defenders. ‘Our desire for such things keeps the supply coming in, but destroys the forest and the communities who live in it. It causes the indigenous woman to be beaten and stripped naked and members of her community to be harassed, evicted and sent to prison,’ he adds, his voice breaking with emotion.

The 53-year-old Liberian environmental lawyer knows this firsthand – he took on the fight of that particular woman and the wider indigenous communities in Liberia’s Sinoe County to stop the destruction of the tropical rainforest – their home and sustenance.

His seven-year campaign succeeded in protecting over half a million acres of Liberia’s tropical rainforest from clear-cutting by a foreign palm-oil plantation developer, enabling indigenous communities to continue their stewardship of the forest. His methods also provide inspiration and hope to activists facing similar threats elsewhere.

But victory came at a heavy price: Brownell faced violence and death threats, and had to flee with his family to the US, where they now live in temporary exile. We spoke on Skype from Boston ahead of him winning the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa – the world’s most prestigious and largest financial award for grassroots environmental activists.

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