news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Sierra Leone: Resisting Land Deals

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 3, 2012 (120503)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"While the government of Sierra Leone says it is now supporting farmers with its smallholder commercialization program, at the same time it is promoting massive foreign direct investment in farmland in the country. It claims this will not harm smallholders or food security. ... Participants at the conference [of affected land owners and land users] strongly disagreed." - The Oakland Institute

The subject of "land grabs," "large-scale land acquisition," "agricultural investment," or simply "land deals," has been hotly debated in recent years. AfricaFocus last covered this with a series of three Bulletins in 2010 (see Since this there has been extensive new research, most notably by The Oakland Institute, documenting numerous abuses of landholder rights in different African countries. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of international effects to formulate international standards to curb abuses, and, in the hopes of some, to ensure that such investment not only benefit investors and macroeconomic growth, but also avoid damages to farmers' rights and the environment.

These include "Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources: A discussion note prepared by FAO, IFAD, the UNCTAD Secretariat and the World Bank Group to contribute to an ongoing global dialogue (, the International Finance Corporation's "Performance Standard 5: Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement" (, and most recently, in March this year, the FAO's "Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security," (

While there has been much debate about such guidelines, including strong critique from civil society organizations, what is most noticeable to a non-specialist is that none of the official agencies seem as yet to have incorporated any of these standards into evaluating their own project financing or policy advice to countries. The evidence from critical non-governmental organizations and scholars, however, indicates that the agencies have most often uncritically pushed investment and not insisted on compliance even with their own performance standards. This is surely an issue that incoming World Bank President Jim Yong Kim should put on the agenda on the Bank's own Independent Evaluation Group, which has often published incisive critiques of Bank programs.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a report by The Oakland Institute and the conference communique from the first assembly of communities impacted by large-scale foreign land investments in Sierra Leone, held April 1-4, 2012, as well as the executive summary from a longer briefing paper by The Oakland Institute on land deals in Sierra Leone.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by e-mail but available on the web at, contains excerpts from another briefing paper by The Oakland Institute, focused on the role of the World Bank Group, particularly the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in advancing such deals, primarily by focusing on creating a conducive investment climate.

For additional background on land deals in Sierra Leone, see See also The Oakland Institute brief on the Addax Bioenergy project ( and "The Politics of ' Win-Win' Narratives: Land Grabs as Development Opporunity?" By Elisa Da Via (

The Oakland Institute has a large number of additional country reports on land investment in Africa, including on Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia. See, as well as links to other countries on that page.

A number of additional related background studies on specific countries are available from the World Bank Annual Conference on Land and Poverty, held April 23-26 (see agenda at The papers include one on Mozambique by Simon Norfolk and Joseph Hanlon ( and one by Albert Makochekanwa on six African case studies (

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Farmers Make Their Voices Heard on Large Land Investments in Sierra Leone

The Oakland Institute

April 2012

The Oakland Institute is proud to have sponsored the first ever assembly of communities impacted by large-scale foreign land investments in Sierra Leone. Between April 1-4, 2012 farmers, small land owners women, youth, and elders assembled in Freetown to have their voices heard and strategize a way forward. Joan Baxter, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute reports from the meeting.

It was the very first opportunity for Sierra Leoneans affected by the recent wave of large land deals in the country to find their collective voice and to make it heard. Ninety farmers from all over the country - women and men, young and old - made their way to the capital Freetown to share their experiences on how large-scale foreign land investment deals are affecting them. They came from eight districts and 20 chiefdoms where foreign investors have leased vast tracks of farmland, most for 50 years with a possible extension of 21.

The occasion was the first-ever national conference of landowners and land users in Sierra Leone, an event organized by the Sierra Leonean NGO Green Scenery, together with the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF). The Oakland Institute provided the financial support that made the conference possible and covered travel and accommodation costs for the participants.

By the time they had finished two days of intensive discussions, the participants had developed and unanimously adopted eight recommendations that they hope will end the suffering that the land deals are causing. Every single participant endorsed the final communique with a signature or, for those unable to write, a thumbprint.

Green Scenery estimates that large land investment deals in Sierra Leone involve about 20 large-scale investors and cover at least one million hectares. That's about 18 percent of the arable land in Sierra Leone. Most investments are for industrial plantations and commodities for export ??" sugarcane for ethanol, crude oil palm, rubber, and more recently some for large-scale production of rice.

Launching the conference, Mohamed Conteh, National Coordinator of SiLNoRF, said the question that needs to be answered is "Who benefits from the land deals?" He contended that it is not poor farmers; rather they find themselves competing with powerful foreign investors. He said that there is a need for investment in agriculture, but it must ensure food security and the right to food in Sierra Leone, not jeopardize it.

Sierra Leone is still struggling to rebuild after a long civil war, which ended ten years ago. While the country remains a net importer of food, it has been seeing improvements in its production. In 2011 agriculture, primarily smallholder farming, accounted for about 51 percent of the GDP. It employs about 3.5 million people, roughly two-thirds of the population.

While the government of Sierra Leone says it is now supporting farmers with its smallholder commercialization program, at the same time it is promoting massive foreign direct investment in farmland in the country. It claims this will not harm smallholders or food security.

Participants at the conference strongly disagreed. The mood at the gathering was emotional and during the opening ceremony, also tense. Many participants addressed questions and passionate pleas for government action to the Deputy Director of Agriculture, Amara Sheriff, who was standing in for the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security as keynote speaker at the opening ceremony.

"How are we going to get food security if you give all the upland land to the investors? We beg you to listen to us," said one farmer who has lost her cropland to the Swiss investor, Addax Bioenergy. "We are suffering because we have nowhere to go. You come out from war, build a house and now when you speak out, they lock you up."

"They grab land from us and we want to get the land back," said Sheka Musa Sam, a landowner in the Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun where Socfin Agricultural Company has leased 6,500 hectares for oil palm and rubber and also a member of parliament with the small PMDC opposition party. "There is no way we can just sit down for 50 years without getting a living. We need to come together and form a united front. We can't let them make us slaves on our own land. This evil thing will make the poor people even poorer."

In his response, the Deputy Director of Agriculture made some startling admissions. "We need to revisit the agreements and see whether they are favorable," he said. "Because in this situation we need a win-win situation, both parties win, not just one."

In his speech to the participants, Herbert M'cLeod, a close advisor to President Koroma and Coordinator of this year's landmark Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation, also surprised the audience by saying that if policies are to be put in place "to stop land-grabbing," there is a need for a "comprehensive land use policy" in Sierra Leone.

This is the first time that government officials have publicly acknowledged that such a policy is missing and that there are problems with large land investment deals in Sierra Leone. In the past three years, the government of Sierra Leone and President Ernest Bai Koroma have been strongly promoting and praising such investment.

During the conference, participants listed more than 100 problems caused by the land deals. These ranged from the overwhelming negative impacts on women who lose their livelihoods and food production, to the effect on children's education who have to drop out of school because their mothers can no longer pay their school fees. They spoke of increased hunger, rising food prices and despoiled water supplies. They bemoaned the devastating environmental effects of the investors' operations. There were also concerns about the way the industrial plantations shred the social fabric of rural communities, causing marriage breakdowns, unwanted teenage pregnancies, increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, and even the loss of self-esteem when one loses one's self-employment.

Participants also catalogued how, in their views, investors are bending rules, twisting arms, misrepresenting their plans, taking advantage of local customs and conniving with Paramount Chiefs and government to acquire vast tracts of farmland.

"I'm a community land user, I live from farming," said one woman from Pujehun District. "But now the investors, this Biopalm company [SIVA Group] has come and the Paramount Chief gives all the land away, even the land I use for farming, for collecting firewood, for native herbs [medicines], for everything. Now it's all gone. I have nothing." Similar complaints were made about the land leases of Sierra Leone Agriculture (a lease now held by the SIVA Group), Addax Bioenergy, and Socfin.

But once they had voiced their concerns and drawn up their recommendations, the mood of the participants changed dramatically. Many expressed not desperation, but a new determination to stand up for their rights.

Participants from a chiefdom where Socfin is trying to expand its lease said because of what they'd learned from each other at the conference, landowners are going to be far more cautious in their dealings with the company. "All we want is a future for our children," said one landowner. "We need to be careful before we decide anything. We don't want our grandchildren coming to ask us ???why did you do this'?"

The final communique issued at the conclusion of this assembly, calls on government to review all the land agreements and to ensure no deals are made without full free and informed consent of and consultation with all members of the affected communities. It also states that local communities require independent legal counsel, that environmental protection must be enforced to protect land, water, vegetation and wildlife resources on which people depend. It demands that traditional rulers, particularly Paramount Chiefs, do not block consultation between communities and investors. Further, it decries any land deals that increase hunger and food insecurity.

The conference also saw the launch of a new watchdog group, Action for Large-Scale Land Acquisition Transparency, or ALLAT. The ALLAT network of civil society organizations and landowner and user associations will monitor land investments throughout the country and sensitize communities.

The communique is now being passed on to the Government of Sierra Leone for consideration and - hopes Green Scenery Executive Director Joseph Rahall - strong action. He believes the conference was a very successful "first step". He hopes that the government will listen and put a moratorium on large land deals until all the participants' demands have been met. Participants listing fears, problems and benefits of the land deals. All participants, like Kadiatu Massaquoi, have endorsed the final communique.

Communique from the Conference of Land Owners and Land Users

We the delegates from eight districts and twenty chiefdoms either affected or about to be affected by large scale land acquisition for agribusiness in Sierra Leone at a conference of land owners and land users at the Saint Edwards Preschool hall in Freetown from 2 - 3 April, 2012, while:

Acknowledging that there is need for investment in agriculture to ensure food security and sustainable development;

Being aware of government's priority in agriculture, particularly with smallholder commercialization and attracting large scale investors in agriculture;

Being mindful of the right and access to land to support farming, access to traditional medicines, energy and water sources, cultural and social purposes, and further mindful of farming as a way of life and source of livelihood for the majority of Sierra Leoneans;

Recognizing the dire need for women to have secure access and rights to land and the challenges of land availability, given climate change and population growth, and further recognizing the need for sustainable and diverse ways of food production to reduce poverty;

Hereby wish to state our serious concerns about large scale land acquisition for agribusiness in Sierra Leone.

Major Concerns

We are concerned that:

  • there is a glaring absence of free, prior and informed consent in all the communities, and there is no transparency in the land deals;
  • consultations on land acquisitions are poor, excluding women and other stakeholders;
  • there are no binding regulations for large scale agroinvestments and monitoring mechanisms in place;
  • there is no national watchdog body to monitor large scale land deals and industrial investments in agriculture;
  • there is no effective environmental management of land, water and vegetation in lease areas to prevent destruction of resources, water sources, native herbs and wildlife and to protect the livelihoods of those that depend on these;
  • community understanding of negotiating for large scale land deals is weak or non-existent and farmers have no access to independent legal representation to help them negotiate for their own interests, and to ensure fair compensation and content in the agreements;
  • traditional leaders, especially paramount chiefs, are serving as poor gatekeepers and some prevent direct community negotiations with the investors;
  • women that have lost their land and thus their livelihoods have no viable or safe alternative livelihood, and thus are the most vulnerable;
  • the investors do not provide relevant assistance and support to affected communities.


Thus, we call on the Government of Sierra Leone and all decision-makers at all levels (international, national, district, chiefdom and local), to implement the following recommendations:

  • in the absence of free, prior and informed consent in all the communities, we call for a review of all the agreements relating to the land investments, and education of all stakeholders of the content of all the agreements;
  • there must be full involvement of all stakeholders in the communities in all the consultations and negotiations on land deals, especially women;
  • a system of monitoring mechanisms must be put in place, and the government should establish regulations to safeguard rural populations in the face of large scale land acquisitions and industrial plantations;
  • appropriate environmental management systems must be put in place to protect land, water and vegetation in lease areas to prevent destruction of these resources, to protect the livelihoods of those that depend on these;
  • support is needed to help communities build their capacity in negotiation for compensation and content of the agreements, and they should be provided with independent legal counsel;
  • traditional rulers, especially paramount chiefs, should allow the full participation of their constituents, especially land owners and users, in the consultation and negotiation processes;
  • women that are affected by loss of their farmland and thus their livelihoods must be provided with safe and healthy alternative livelihoods;
  • the land investors should provide relevant assistance and support to affected communities;
  • land investment for agro-business should be designed to increase food security, not decrease it.

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa Country Report: Sierra Leone

Oakland institute, 2011

Executive Summary

As of October 2010, little had been published about the scale or number of land deals in Sierra Leone. Only one large lease had garnered media coverage - that of the Swissbased Addax Bioenergy for a 20,000 hectare (ha) plantation of sugarcane and production of ethanol for export to the European Union, a project for which Sierra Leone's President Koroma has shown great support.

Based on field research conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, this report provides new and important information on the social, political and economic implications of current land investments in Sierra Leone. The report examines how land agreements are being negotiated and the impacts these deals have had on local populations.

The study examines four case studies of foreign investments in land in Sierra Leone by the following investors:

  • Addax Bioenergy (Switzerland): 20,000 ha, sugarcane plantations for ethanol production for export to Europe
  • Quifel Agribusiness (SL) Ltd. (subsidiary of Quifel Natural Resources, Portugal): more than 120,000 ha, stated purpose is palm oil production, but company now claims to be interested in food production
  • Sierra Leone Agriculture (subsidiary CAPARO Renewable Agricultural Developments, UK): 43,000 ha for an palm oil plantation
  • Sepahan Afrique (Iran): 10,117 ha, palm oil and rice production (appears to be on hold or canceled)

Fieldwork resulted in the following key findings:

  • Early 2011, close to 500,000 ha of farmland had been leased or were under negotiation for lease in Sierra Leone. The figure doubles if all land deals involving foreign carbon credit schemes and "preidentified" land availabilities are taken into account.
  • Agricultural projects are still in early stages, with minimal clearing as of yet. Most of the large agricultural investments in Sierra Leone are still very recent, signed after 2007, and are not yet fully operational.
  • A lack of transparency and public disclosure exists in all aspects of the four land deals. Land leases are negotiated directly with chiefs and landowners, and often the signatories do not have copies nor are they aware of the terms of the leases or even the land area covered. Only one of the four investors studied, Addax Bioenergy, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of Sierra Leone (GoSL). As a result, there is little critical or accurate media coverage of the land deals, Sierra Leoneans don't know how much of their farmland has already been leased to foreign investors, and there is no serious public debate on the subject.
  • Foreign investors often employ local "agents" or "coordinators" to identify land for lease and negotiate leases with local communities, chiefs, and landowners. There is evidence that these "agents" take unfair advantage of local traditions, perceptions and vulnerabilities in order to convince local populations that they will benefit from the lease deals, while refraining from discussing potential risks such as loss of farmland or negative environmental impacts.
  • The GoSL provides myriad financial incentives to encourage foreign investment. General fiscal incentives include a 10- year tax holiday on agricultural investments in tree crops and rice3 and zero import duty.4 Sierra Leone also allows 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors, requiring no restrictions on expatriate employees and permitting full repatriation of profits.5
  • The regulatory framework for the negotiation of land investments is extremely weak. The policy guidelines and incentives for investors, developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), contain a number of loopholes, and appear to be non-binding.6 Without the establishment of an MOU, the government and people of Sierra Leone are vulnerable to environmental degradation and loss of local rights to land.
  • There is confusion surrounding the purported "availability" of cultivable land: the oft-quoted notion that 85 percent of arable land in Sierra Leone is available to investors appears to be based on outdated surveys, conducted over thirty years ago, as no recent land survey documents have been identified.
  • SLIEPA, Sierra Leone's investment promotion agency, emphasizes opportunities for investors in sugar and palm oil in order to produce raw stock for agrofuel. Two of the investors profiled (Quifel and Addax Bioenergy) have taken out leases allegedly to produce agrofuels for export - utilizing valuable farmland to produce non-food products while Sierra Leone is still faced with chronic food insecurity.
  • There is a lack of environmental protection. The land investments profiled in this study, as well as other private sector projects, have been implemented without due compliance with the Environment Protection Agency Act (2008). The Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency (SLEPA) is responsible for administering and enforcing the environmental, social, and health impact assessments (ESHIA), which are legally required for all development projects. However, evidence shows that these assessments are non-binding and investors have not been held accountable to them.
  • The ongoing land reform process in Sierra Leone, which is supported by the World Bank, is driven by the government's desire to accommodate foreign investors and facilitate their access to secure land holdings. Civil society groups argue that land tenure reforms should be focused, instead, on ensuring equitable access to land for women and youth.
  • Questions regarding investors' connections to the government surround Sierra Leone land deals. The law firm of Franklyn Kargbo & Co. represented local landowners and chiefdom councils in the Addax deal and represented the foreign investor, Quifel, in their land lease. At the time of the lease negotiations Franklyn Kargbo was an advisor in the Strategy and Policy Unit in the Office of the President. Later, in December 2010, Franklyn Kargbo was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General, with a key role in the development of land leases and with the responsibility of the ongoing land tenure reform process.
  • Local farmers, landowners and community members have protested land leases in three of the four cases studies. In the majority of cases, formal grievance mechanisms have not been established, and with the Addax Project where a "grievance box" was made available complaint letters received no response.
  • To date, none of the four case study investments adheres to the World Bank principles for responsible agroinvestment, nor do they conform to the set of core principles laid out by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, to address the human rights challenge posed by large-scale land acquisitions.

Based on the findings of this study, OI concludes that several major problems characterize the land acquisition trend in Sierra Leone:

  1. There is a great lack of transparency and disclosure of land deals, to the extent that local communities cannot make informed decisions regarding lease negotiations.
  2. The weak legal framework and lack of inter-agency coordination within the GoSL leads to weak oversight of land deals and lack of enforcement of protections and safeguards.
  3. Confusion surrounding the "availability" of land for investment in Sierra Leone poses great risks to local communities. Without proper land inventories, smallholders' land will continue to be infringed upon.
  4. Land is being cultivated for agrofuel production as opposed to food production for local markets raising serious doubts about the value of investments for local food security.
  5. The manner in which land deals are negotiated takes advantage of local vulnerabilities and social structures. The process lacks safeguards and grievance mechanisms.
  6. The non-binding nature of Environment Impact Assessment requirements, and their lack of enforcement, allows investors to ignore their responsibilities and the health of ecosystems.
  7. Promotion of land investment by the government and the World Bank Group leads to important questions regarding who benefits from these investments - a small privileged group or the majority of Sierra Leoneans.
  8. Land deals are being negotiated in a manner that alienates local landowners and creates social conflict. Investors are not fulfilling pledges to the community and grievance mechanisms are not being honored.

Given this range of problems, the conditions surrounding agricultural investments in Sierra Leone are ripe for exploitation and conflict. Improving the current situation in Sierra Leone will require cooperation from a number of actors and institutions. First, the World Bank Group and its agencies (International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), among others) must apply their own Performance Standards to their investment projects, their advisory services, and the technical assistance they provide.

Second, the GoSL and related agencies (such as SLIEPA) must allow for transparency and full disclosure regarding land investments to ensure that community members are given their basic right to information so that they may make informed decisions. In addition, it is imperative that the regulatory framework surrounding land investments be improved, and stipulations made binding for investors.

Third, NGOs, international institutions, and other civil society advocates for human rights have a role to play in educating and assisting local communities who are affected by land deals or who may be affected in the future. Community consultation measures must be improved and the establishment of grievance mechanisms must be enforced. Further, international agencies must lend their expertise to the GoSL in leading a land tenure reform process that emphasizes equitable and secure land access for all Sierra Leoneans, including women.

Finally, there is an urgent need for all parties to assist with and carry out comprehensive land-use surveys and mapping. It is imperative that the government of Sierra Leone document current patterns of land use, vegetation cover, and water resources. A clear definition should be established to classify "used" versus "available" land; this should consider the full range of uses involved in smallholder farming, including the bush fallow system. Until these recommendations are implemented, and until a complete inventory of foreign land holdings in the country is carried out and made public, international institutions and donor partners should discontinue support for large-scale land acquisitions in Sierra Leone.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Sierra Leone||Africa Economy & Development||Africa Agriculture|

URL for this file: