A new report by the financial risk analyst Chain Reaction Research says most of the deals have since failed, with 27 representing 1.37 million hectares (3.39 million acres) of land having been outright abandoned.
When commodity prices spiked in the late 2000s, multinational agribusiness giants smelled profits. Eager to branch out of crowded Southeast Asian rainforests, some palm oil companies set their sights on Africa, where governments in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire assured them that they had land to spare. In just a few years, deal after deal was inked, with companies from across the world suddenly holding the rights to huge tracts of West and Central African land. For the palm oil industry, an exciting new frontier was opening up at a breakneck pace.