Call for halt to industrial plantations in Sierra Leone
The push for farmland by foreign investors engaged in industrial-scale plantation agriculture in Sierra Leone has increased poverty and food shortages among communities who have lost their access to land, new research shows.
An estimated fifth of the country’s arable land has been leased since 2009 to industrial farming concerns, many of them foreign companies producing biofuels from crops such as oil palm and sugar cane.
A report published today, ‘Who Is Benefitting? examines the impact large land leases held by three investors has had on local communities. It was commissioned by local joint initiative Action for Large-scale Land Acquisition Transparency, with support from Christian Aid and other agencies.? ?
The leases examined are held by Addax Bioenergy (SL) Ltd, Sierra Leone Agriculture and Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd.
As a result of its findings, the report calls for a review of all existing contracts, and a moratorium on further large scale land investment until existing concerns are addressed, and future contracts can be independently monitored.??The report says that in particular, government contracts with large investors, some who have been granted 99-year leases, need to be more transparent and respect the country’s laws, and government and companies must implement international guidelines that emphasise the protection of local people and the environment.
The report also criticises the tax breaks offered to foreign companies to persuade them to invest, which it says costs Sierra Leone many millions of dollars each year in lost revenue.
Kato Lambrechts of Christian Aid identified as a key problem government claims that just 11-15 per cent of the country’s arable land is being ‘used’ and that there is plenty of room for foreign investors.
"This shows a lack of understanding of the way the country’s smallholder farmers, who account for nearly half of working age Sierra Leoneans, use the land," she said.
"They rely on an extremely diverse and complex mosaic of land types - upland farms, land depressions prone to flooding, swamps, tree-crop plantations, fallow bush and riverine grass areas to grow a wide variety of crops.
"Much of this land is deemed ‘unused’ – but that is far from the case. Communities are promised development in various forms such as jobs and services if they sign over land, but only a few ever see real benefits."