Freetown, April 24, 2013
Is our country part of the “wild west”? A moratorium on large-scale land leases for agriculture is urgently needed in Sierra Leone.
In November 2012 the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that large-scale land deals are undermining food security. He compared "land grabs" in Africa to the "wild west", saying a "sheriff" is needed to restore the rule of law. And just recently, World Bank President Dr. Tim Yong Ki echoed concerns about the risks associated with large-scale land deals, noting that, “Securing access to land is critical for millions of poor people. Modern, efficient, and transparent policies on land rights are vital to reducing poverty and promoting growth, agriculture production, better nutrition, and sustainable development.
Green Scenery is concerned about large-scale land leases taken out for agriculture in Sierra Leone in general and particularly in Pujehun district since 2010. Based on figures from registered land leases, Green Scenery calculates that 60% of the total area in Pujehun district is already being, or could soon be converted for large-scale industrial agriculture, primarily for oil palm plantations. According to the registered documents, seven of twelve chiefdoms have leased large portions of land to investors for 50 years with possible extensions of up to 100 years. Lease areas range from 6,575 hectares to 47,568 hectares. Annual rents per hectare vary from 1,000 Leones (USD 0.23) to USD 12 (with 50% of that for landowners), leaving local farming communities with very little to live off after losing their land and economic trees.
Freetown, December 4, 2012
Aggrieved landowners and land-users in Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun, call on Human Rights Commission to intervene against human rights violations by Paramount Chief and chiefdom authorities in Socfin operation area
More than a hundred representatives of landholding families from 36 villages affected by a large-scale investor in oil palm plantation in Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District, have signed a resolution stating that they disassociate themselves from any lease agreement signed on their behalf by the Paramount Chief and chiefdom authorities of Malen Chiefdom with the Government of Sierra Leone. Furthermore, it says “…we will no longer allow the Socfin Agricultural Company personnel and or their machines to enter upon or operate on our land.” The resolution was issued with a letter written by MALOA, an association of affected landowners and users in Malen Chiefdom, on behalf of affected landholding families and addressed to the Human Rights Commission for their intervention against human rights abuses such as intimidation. The document was signed in Pujehun on 1st of December 2012 at a meeting of aggrieved landholding families from Malen Chiefdom.
Green Scenery has been observing the euphoria around political campaigns during this elections time with great interest. Other than trying to demonstrate who is the party with the largest crowds and number of supporters, we note that nothing much is forthcoming from any of the political parties in terms of political positioning on critical national issues either in rallies or during back stage campaigning.Green Scenery challenges all political parties to take a position on large scale land acquisitions of foreign direct investors in agriculture - commonly referred to as land grabbing. This is a critical issue as it bears on land rights and livelihoods of the majority of the rural population.
Land Owner Protests against Socfin’s Operation as Police Intimidation Continues
Hundreds of mainly casual workers of the company gathered awaiting payment. The delay caused outrage and protests. Police intervended with tear gas. Seven people were arrested and brought to Pujehun. Brusher were paid next day receiving 10,000 Le (USD 2,2) per working day.
November 12th, 2011
After confusion about a special committee set up by the deputy minister of MAFFS and the meeting date, the "15" accused persons faced the magistrate court in Pujehun on the 12th of November. Only one key witness, an employee of the company Sierra Leone Agricultural Company S.L Ltd. was heard. The court case continues on the 26th of November 2011.
November 8th, 2011
After meetings held at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) with delegations of landowners and community members the deputy minister of MAFFS formed a special committee on the 4th of November 2011 to solve the dispute over land in Malen chiefdom, Pujehun district. The legal adviser of the Malen Landowners Association (MALOA) raised concerns over the composition of the committee and the meeting date which coincided with the date of the court trail against the 15 accused protesters of MALOA on the 12th of November. Read the letter
October 23rd, 2011
Court trail against protesters again postponed. Hundreds of people showed their support in court.
After postponing the date from the 21st to the 22nd of October, the case did not go again as scheduled. The Magistrate was not present. The court was presided over by two Justice of the Peace and the matter was adjourned to 12th November, 2011.
Different sources reported on constant harassment of the people in their towns and villages in the Socfin operation area by armed police personnel. People reported that chiefs are also constantly threatening the youths and accused persons.
There were over 500 women, men, youths and elderly people in court on both dates the court trail was set up.
October 18th, 2011
The number of arrests climbed up to 40. All of them are released. 15 are accused of unlawfull assembly, riotous conduct and treating language.The court hearing is set up for the 21st of October 2011.
October 12th, 2011
On Tuesday the police took 27 of the protesters to the countries second city Bo for questioning. On Wednesday the Local Unit Commander said on Tea Break (SLBC Radio) that they are accused of unlawfull assembly and that some might have to face the court.
Freetown, October 11th, 2011
Early Warning: Growing tension in Malen Chiefdom. Police arrested protesters against large scale land deal.
Stakeholders should get onto the negotiation table
According to local sources from Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun district, the police headed by local Unit Commander (LUC) M. M. Sesay have arrested up to 30 peaceful protesters including their spokesman Eddie Amara and took them to Pujehun. They are accused of public disorder according to the Local Unit Commander.
Since Monday evening, 3rd of October 2011, land owning families are blocking the Socfin (SAC) operation area in Sahn Malen, South of the country. The company is one of the large scale investors in oil palm plantation in Sierra Leone that was mentioned in the President’s speech held at the opening ceremony of Parliament.
October 9th, 2011
Land owners are protesting against lease agreement with large scale investor
Since the 3rd of October 2011 more than a hundred land owners are blocking the Socfin operation area. The company is one of the large scale investors in oil palm plantation in Sierra Leone. The lease agreement signed between the government and the chiefdom and subleased to the company caused concern amongst affected communities. Several meetings with stakeholders were held. Land owners and workers voiced their anger on not being properly consulted on the agreement and on the working conditions. Research undertaken by Green Scenery showed the land deal lacks of transparency.
On Sunday, the 9th of October, a company representative visited one of the villages, Kortumahun. Land owners stated "no further work will take place until we hear from the company about our demands in the letter sent out by land owners".
October 7th, 2011
AWOKO newspaper: Conflict in Pujehun over land
Sierra Leone is in a hurry to get foreign direct investment but the process of land acquisition in Sahn Malen, Pujehun District has been protested by land holding families, causing confusion among stakeholders in the area. Socfin Agricultural Company is embroiled in serious land lease agreement tussle that has the tendency to ignite conflict between foreign investors and locals, warns a local NGO Green Scenery in a fact finding mission report published recently. Read full article
May 13th, 2011
The Socfin Land Deal Missing Out On Best Practices
Report on Fact finding Mission to Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District, Sierra Leone
Green Scenery conducted an inquiry in Malen chiefdom in the Pujehun District 22-24 April 2011 to investigate allegations of stakeholders around the land deal of Socfin Agriculture Company Sierra Leone Ltd (Socfin SL). Issues raised related to transparency, consultations, resettlement, and pressure on land owners to sign agreements.
Enjoying high government support, Socfin commenced work in April with land lease period of 50 years and leasehold on about 7,000 hectares of prime farmland in Malen chiefdom for rubber and oil palm plantation. The company seeks more land in neighboring chiefdoms. 12,000 hectares should make the USD 100,000,000.00 investment economically viable.
Green Scenery’s significant conclusion is the lack of transparency in which information was not tin time and fully provided in a way that would be understood and that consultative processes were faulty and excluded key stakeholders at chiefdom and district levels. Alternatives to large scale plantations were not explored. Tension amongst families, political representatives, and in communities is emerging.
April 18th, 2011
Early Warning: Fears of Tension Around Foreign Investment in Oil Palm and Rubber Plantation in Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District
According to media sources and the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), Green Scenery gathers that foreign investor Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Limited is investing 100 million US dollars in rubber and oil palm plantations in the Malen chiefdom in Pujehun District in the south of Sierra Leone. Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone is a subsidiary of the Belgian corporation, Socfin.
The company has taken out a 40-year lease of 16,000 acres of prime farmland, and has high-level government support in Sierra Leone. The lease was signed “under the watchful eyes of the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Dr. Sam Sesay“. The reports don’t mention how much was paid to land owners and to date there has been no public disclosure of what benefits and incentives (tax holidays, etc) may be granted to the investor.
The arrangement has already caused tension amongst key stakeholders and farmers in the area.