July 18, 2016 By Mohamed Massaquoi
A three day national conference on land governance for agricultural development and community benefit has ended in Freetown with participants across the country discussing burning issues surrounding large scale land investment.
The conference was organised by Culture Radio and Green Scenery, with support of Welthungerhilfe and Bread for the World, among others.
The aim of the conference was to give civil society, landowners and users affected by large-scale land investment a platform to strategise on the diligent utilisation of the country’s natural resources.
Since 2007, the country has experienced rapid large-scale land takeover from poor and vulnerable people, mostly farmers, from big mining companies, with government leading arrangement, while allowing limited involvement of the affected communities.
Huge portions of land are also leased to new economic entrepreneurs in the name of agricultural investment, while vast arable lands are still not in use, thus attracting investors.
Land deals, such as those struck by Sierra Leone China Agricultural Development Company, Socfin, African Land Limited and the defunct ADDAX have come under scrutiny by the people, one of the reasons for the conference.
Giving the current status of land reforms process in the country, Lawyer Sonkita Conteh said there was need for mass awareness raising around land related issues as most people do not have access to information regarding land rights and governance in the country.
He described the new national land policy as a good policy, noting that its full implementation was the next important step for stakeholders
“The need to transform the policy into law for it to have full legal effect, whether the laws would be codified into one law or several still lingers. The VGGT is about responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forest. The guiding principles of the VGGT include recognition, respect legitimate tenure rights, prevent tenure disputes and provide justice,” he told participants.
Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Charles Rogers, said the fishery policy was exhaustive, sustainable and ecologically viable and in line with international guidelines and best practices, nothing that fishery governance as well as management is done within the context of poverty alleviation and food security.
“Successful and sustainable fishery governance and management is possible only where we use our land responsibly. I am hopeful that discussions here will lead to a more responsible land governance and use which would in turn translate into national economic development,” Rogers noted.
The German Ambassador to Sierra Leone, His Excellency Christian Rumplecker, said the people and the government of Sierra Leone should own the land reform process and therefore bear the responsibility of determining which trajectory to take to address the situation, adding that their role would be to observe and provide support for the land reformation process.
He reiterated that vast majority of people depend on land for livelihood, mainly through agriculture, as a result of the fact that other sectors have not been able to provide adequate employment opportunities.
“Land management and use should be within the context of poverty alleviation, food security, creating job opportunities and engendering national economic development. Stakeholders must implement rights-based policies and laws on land, the role of CSOs in all of this is as important as the success of the reforms hoped for,” concluded the top German diplomat.