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Sierra Leone: Resisting Land Deals
May 3, 2012 (120503)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"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
http://www.africafocus.org/agexp.php). 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 (http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ciicrp3_en.pdf), the
International Finance Corporation's "Performance Standard 5:
Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement"
(http://www.ifc.org/sustainability), 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 http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/wb1205.php, 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 (http://tinyurl.com/d4tj2gj) and "The Politics of '
Win-Win' Narratives: Land Grabs as Development Opporunity?"
By Elisa Da Via (http://tinyurl.com/boyh755).
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 http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/land-deals-africa-ethiopia,
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 http://www.landandpoverty.com/). The papers include one
on Mozambique by Simon Norfolk and Joseph Hanlon
(http://tinyurl.com/7su5ykb) and one by Albert Makochekanwa
on six African case studies (http://tinyurl.com/8xoxzxk).
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Farmers Make Their Voices Heard on Large Land Investments in
The Oakland Institute
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
- 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
- traditional rulers, especially paramount chiefs, should
allow the full participation of their constituents,
especially land owners and users, in the consultation and
- women that are affected by loss of their farmland and thus
their livelihoods must be provided with safe and healthy
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The manner in which land deals are negotiated takes
advantage of local vulnerabilities and social structures.
The process lacks safeguards and grievance mechanisms.
- The non-binding nature of Environment Impact Assessment
requirements, and their lack of enforcement, allows
investors to ignore their responsibilities and the health of
- 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.
- 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.
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