A two-day conference of land owners which closed yesterday in Freetown has challenged transparency in land acquisition and use in Sierra Leone, calling for effective environmental management of land, water and vegetation in lease areas to prevent destruction of resources.
In a nine-point communique, delegates from eight districts and twenty chiefdoms either affected or about to be affected by large scale land acquisition for agribusiness across the country acknowledged that there was need for investment in agriculture to ensure food security and sustainable development but noted 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.”
The meeting ended up with a recommendation by participants for the formation of a civil society coalition that would serve as a watchdog on land issues in the country, banking on the belief that “there is no national watchdog body to monitor large scale land deals and industrial investments in agriculture.”
It also claimed that community understanding of negotiating for large scale land deals was weak or non-existent and that farmers had no access to independent legal representation to help them negotiate for their own interests and to ensure fair compensation and content in the agreements.
While the occasion emphasized that it was aware of government’s priority in agriculture, particularly with smallholder commercialisation and attracting large scale investors in agriculture, it nonetheless suggested that “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.
In a press statement the gathering, organized by the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF) and Green Scenery, unveiled a civil society coalition on land matters called Action for Large scale Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT), that would serve as a watchdog on land issues in the country.