, FREETOWN, Apr 4 – Massive land deals in Sierra Leone have raised concerns for food security and local communities being left out of multi-million dollar accords, the country’s first ever land conference heard Tuesday.
National coordinator of the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (Silnorf), Mohamed Conteh told delegates that one million hectares of arable land had been leased or were under negotiations for lease in the country.
“The increase in demand for land by multinational organisations is putting food security in danger as most farmers have abandoned food cultivation to look for employment elsewhere.
“These land deals offer few benefits to local communities because of a lack of transparency and weak monitoring of guidelines and regulations put in place by ministries and agencies,” he said.
Conteh said at least 20 chiefdoms in nine districts were affected.
In Pujehun, in the south and Port Loko in the north “a third of the areas have been leased or about to be leased to foreign investors for large scale industrial rubber and oil palm plantations.”
Amara Sheriff, deputy director-general of the agriculture department said the country had over 5.4 million of arable land but was only using 11 percent.
“Since Sierra Leoneans cannot utilise all the land available, the government has a responsibility to encourage foreign direct investment while at the same time protect the interest of the communities.”
A commissioner from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, Jamesina King said “concerns of land investment include lack of informed prior consent and inadequate participation and compensation, threats to farming livelihood, dry up water resources, food insecurity and violation of labour rights.”
Some 20 large investors are currently present in Sierra Leone, such as Swiss Addax Bioenergy which is producing bio-ethanol for export to Europe and Agrittera from UK dealing in palm oil and cattle ranching.
China’s Hanan Rubber Industry Group is growing rubber and rice, Quitel from Portugal pineapple and cassava and India’s Silva is also producing palm oil.