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In parts of rural western Liberia, gated entrances manned by private security guards divide red dirt tracks from the main road. Behind them are neat rows of squat palm trees belonging to Sime Darby Plantation, one of the world’s biggest palm oil producers. The tracks meander through the plantations, arriving at settlements that predate the arrival of the company. These villages now find themselves hemmed in by oil palm trees, which produce bunches of shiny, reddish fruit containing the sought-after oil.

Even the most basic amenities, such as functioning hand pumps for drawing water, are often lacking here. Most of the inhabitants eke out a living through subsistence farming, growing crops such as cassava and hot pepper or producing charcoal. A few lucky ones work as labourers or security guards on the plantation...

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