Sierra Leone: Foreign land leasers accused of 'land grabbing'By KEMO CHAM | Thursday, June 16 2011 at 09:10
Activists in Sierra Leone are calling for a halt in all future agreements regarding what is being described as “land grabbing” by foreign companies.
A new report commissioned by a US-based think-tank, Oakland Institute, accused foreign companies of taking advantage of weak regulations and a near lack of transparency in land deals in Sierra Leone.
According to the report, the deals were detrimental to poor rural landowners.
Thirty percent of the population in Sierra Leone is food insecure, according to statics, with 70 per cent living below the poverty line.
The government`s aggressive campaign for foreign investment opportunities leaves it susceptible to loopholes in its agreements with potential investors.
The report, ‘Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa’, which was launched at the weekend, documents the social, political and economic impact of such land deals.
It focused specifically on four major land acquisition deals involving three European subsidiaries and an Iranian company.
Oakland Institute has commissioned similar reports on land investment elsewhere on the continent. Its lead researcher, Joan Baxter, said in Freetown that investors are rushing for huge tracks of farmland in view of the potential profits as climate change threatens future food and water supplies.
About 500,000 hectares of farmland were leased or are presently under negotiation for lease in Sierra Leone this year, the report noted.
Some community-based organisations are blaming the government for entering into land deals with little or no input from the people whose lands are affected.
In some cases, money paid for these lands are not seen as commensurate with their true value. And as land is in Africa normally owned on communal basis, political machinations that tend not to involve the people in the details of the deals leave them at a disadvantage.
Joseph Rahall, executive director of the NGO Green Scenery, one of the organisations involved in the anti-land grabbing campaign, called for a constructive national debate on the issue, and demanded that all future agreements be halted “until the frameworks and regulations to govern land deals” were in place.
Another panellist, Helen Bash Taqi, sought to reassure government that the report wasn`t meant to criticize its desire for investment, but that it was meant to encourage it to reflect on the pertinent issues surrounding land acquisition in Sierra Leone.
“Our country is still struggling to promote investment, I will encourage government to look at the report for a constructive dialogue for the establishment of a regulatory framework for land deals,” said Taqi.
This report also singled out the Ministry of Agriculture for having an investment policy full of “loopholes” which render land deals non-binding.
Two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s work force engages in agriculture in one way or the other. The sector provides 50 per cent of the country`s GDP.
A greatest portion of this comes from those involved in small-scale farming, which accounts for 40 per cent of the national GDP.
Therefore, the report notes, these large scale land deals will put many of these people out of work thereby taking away their livelihoods.
“For a country coming out of war you must be able to reflect on the past so that the past does not revisit you,” warned the Chairman of Sierra Leone`s Human Rights Commission, Beny Sam.
According to the report, much of Africa’s small-scale farmlands acquired by these foreign investors, including the ones covered in Sierra Leone, are used for the production of agri-fuel.
This brings to focus the subject of environmental impact, which, in the words of lead researcher Joan Baxter, creates “tension, conflict and confusion.”
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