By Jariatu Bangura
As part of a global campaign against land grabbing, the Executive Director of Actionaid Sierra Leone has urged the government and development partners to have zero tolerance on land grabbing.
Mohamed Sillah called on public and private policy makers to rethink and end the current incentives, policies and practices that are fuelling land grabbing, and instead provide increased investment to help smallholder farmers and food producers to improve their profitability, resilience and access to markets.
He added that while touted as a solution to combat hunger and poverty, the New Alliance is pressuring African governments to take actions which have left many Africans landless, an economic resource they depend on to make a living and feed their families, thus undermining what it sets out to achieve.
“Governments and investors are holding communities and women in deprivation and poverty by denying them access and ownership rights of the land they have lived on or used for generations. Nearly 400 million hectares of land are involved in large scale land deals in Africa and Sierra Leone is one of the top 10 countries targeted for large scale land deal in Africa that are characterized as land grabs,” he said, noting that since 2009 to date more than 500,000 hectares of land in Sierra Leone have been either fully leased or about to be leased to foreign investors for at least fifty (50) years, with possibilities of extension.
He said there has been a major increase in land deals in recent years often in areas already occupied by poor communities, while governments are driving the global rush for and by offering incentives to private investors and companies, putting some of the world’s poorest people at risk of increased hunger and poverty.
He explained that governments are turning to private capital to fill the massive shortfall in public spending, but too often this blind rush for investment is leading to land grabs which are leaving the communities landless, homeless and hungry. Growth cannot be achieved at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable, he said, adding that the majority of land deals by foreign investors in poor countries are to produce food and biofuels for export, not to feed people within the country.
“Our experience is that these land deals often do not deliver the jobs, schools, roads and other benefits promised to communities and these unfulfilled promises were highlighted in one of Actionaid Sierra Leone’s research reports: ‘The Broken promises’, he said, adding that “many land deals are in fact land grabs carried out without proper consultation, consent and compensation, and have led to forced evictions, conflict and the violation of human rights. Women who produce up to 80% of food in most developing countries are most vulnerable as they often have weaker land rights.”
He maintained that continuing the current macroeconomic-based strategy and creating further incentives for large-scale land deals would only result in more hardship, distress and poverty for some of the poorest communities in Africa.
He also opined that government must guarantee legitimate rights of land users, including women, by reforming land laws and investment codes so that small-scale food producers, not investors, are the vanguard of development.
“We encourage the government of Sierra Leone to recognise and protect the land rights of all their citizens, especially the rights of women; ensure land users and land owners are duly represented in negotiating land lease agreements with all investors (local and foreign) and we recommend that government put a moratorium on large land scale leases,” he said.
He further urged that all land deals in the country must follow the principles of free, prior and informed consent and in line with principles of the UN Voluntary Guidelines and the African Union Land Policy Initiative, as well as being transparent with the rightful compensation and benefit rather than disadvantage communities.