The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Wednesday 22nd and Friday 24th August 2018 ended sensitization meetings on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) in the Context of National Food Security and the National Land Policy in Sierra Leone in Mongo Bendugu, Falaba District and Kamakwie in the Karene District all in the Northern Province.
The two sensitization meetings were attended by representatives of Paramount Chiefs, the Office of National Security, youths, women and religious leaders, Local Councils, Mammy Queens, District Officers, Chief Administrators and civil society organizations all of whom pledged to sensitize others about the VGGT and new Land Policy.
75 participants attended the meeting at the Multi-Purpose Hall in Mongo Bendugu, Falaba District while 65 attended in Kamakwie at the Karene District Council Hall.
Welcoming the FAO team and participants, the Regent Paramount Chief of Mongo Bendugu, Falaba District, Sheku Jawara underscored the importance of the meeting as their survival depends on land, that land is a top priority, appealed to FAO to support farmers adding that Falaba is a new district crippling with development challenges and that chiefs are key in land issues.
The Senior District Officer of Falaba, Mr. Haroun Keh Turay in his presentation on the Role of Local Councils, Paramount Chiefs and other Local Authorities in the Implementation of the VGGT and the National Land Policy in Sierra Leone disclosed that there are two different land policies in the country-one for the Western Area where citizens can buy, sell and own land while in the provinces land is communal and family owned and cannot be sold adding that the Ministry of Local Government has more lands than the Ministry of Lands for which the former Minister of Local Government was the Chairman of the Land Policy Committee adding that for land disputes Town Chiefs are the first port of call, followed by Paramount Chiefs and magistrates but warned Paramount Chiefs to be inclusive, transparent and accountable in land issues informing that some functions are yet to be devolved to Local Councils.
Mr. Haroun Keh Turay went on to state that Sierra Leone is a case study for the implementation of the VGGT, that Regional Land Committees were recently formed while plans are underway to setup District, Chiefdom and Village Land Committees and commended the District for donating land to government for development purposes but stressed that women now have right to land, urged all to do away with bad customs and traditions and underlined that the new Land Policy would protect investors, prevent land conflicts appealed for the VGGT and new Land Policy documents to be distributed to stakeholders.
The Chief Administrator of Falaba District, Mr. Morlai Pat. Kamara assured FAO that the council wants to eliminate poverty, that the visit is timely, assured FAO of support, that the new Land Policy would prevent land conflicts underscoring that the people would only benefit from their lands with security and sustainable investments, appealed to the people to make land available for investments but cautioned that they must preserve the beauty of their lands and sensitize others about the VGGT and new Land Policy.
Mrs. Martha Davies, Project Manager for the VGGT highlighted the objectives of the workshops among them to raise awareness about the governance of tenure, prevention of conflicts, that land can be used for agriculture, forestry and other economic sources of income, burial grounds, reiterated that Paramount Chiefs are custodians of lands and observed that most conflicts are related to land concluding that Sierra Leone is a signatory to the VGGT.
Mrs. Davies continued that the VGGT would help Paramount Chiefs to rule justly, that with the exception of the new Districts of Falaba and Kenene, the others have been sensitized about the VGGT and the new National Land Policy that all stakeholders and citizens must be aware of as they would help communities to live in peace and harmony, that Sierra Leone has practicalized the VGGT, that Bo District is a role model for land issues but clarified that FAO is also learning from the people during the workshops.
Mrs. Davies furthered that the Council of Paramount Chiefs and Members of Parliament have also been sensitized about the VGGT and new National Land Policy.
On behalf of the FAO Representative in Sierra Leone, Dr. Nyabenyi Tipo, Mrs. Josephine Koroma commended Falaba District for the warm reception accorded the team, informed the people that FAO gives technical support to governments the world over to eradicate hunger, ensure food security and even export, end malnutrition, govern natural resources in a sustainable and responsible manner and ensure responsible investments in agriculture and presented a paper on the Origin of the VGGT, Concepts and Implementation Status in Sierra Leone.
According to Mrs. Josephine Koroma, the VGGT was approved at the World Food Security Meeting in May 2012, that Sierra Leone signed the agreement in April 2014 and setup a Multi-Stakeholders’ Committee, highlighted the advantages of the VGGT among them human dignity, zero discrimination, inclusion of the physically challenged, equity and justice, is holistic, promotes responsible governance, admonished the people not to over-exploit the environment, emphasized that they must only welcome responsible investments and asserted that the FAO is encouraging government to implement the Land Policy.
She further informed that the VGGT is a reference material, that a Multi-Stakeholders’ platform on the VGGT would be held in September this year, dilated on the Women’s Customary Land Rights pilot project in Bo, Kenema and Bombali Districts and continued that FAO is also working to end deforestation and land degradation in the country, introduce new technologies to improve agriculture and highlighted some of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals FAO is working to actualize like zero poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, reduction of inequalities and climate action disclosing that FAO also works with partners like government, CSOs, academia and the private sector.
In his presentation on the implementation of the National Land Policy: The Current Status, Mr. Rashid Charles Ngiawee, Staff Supervisor/Head of Land Reform Program in the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment reiterated that land is a serious issue full of challenges and affects all, appealed to participants to be attentive adding that as a new District, Falaba has challenges highlighting that the new Land Policy is one of the best in the world as it conforms with the VGGT, observed that after the civil war the institutions governing the land tenure system weakened while the judiciary had challenges to address grievances resulting to violence insisting that demand for land far exceeds supply and pointed out that the Ministry is not present nationwide.
According to Mr. Rashid Charles Ngiawee, the 2017-2027 National Land Policy Implementation Plan has institutional framework programs including the Reform Unit, the National Land Policy Steering Committee, Regional Land Oversight Committees and disclosed that the Ministry is working with the World Bank to implement land administration.
The representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Jeneba Jenalharazim said the Ministry would soon establish offices in Falaba and Keneme Districts and has already deployed a District Agriculture Officer in Karene, that the Ministry is supporting the VGGT to secure and support large-scale investments and called for transparent agreements that must include transfer of technology to locals assuring that the Ministry is ready to support farmers.
The Chairman of the Karene District Council, Mr. John Ditto Kamara informed that the District comprises 13 chiefdoms-8 from Bombali and 5 from Port Loko but lamented that most of the chiefdoms are vulnerable, that the Otamba Kilimi National Park is located in the District near the Guinean border, has most of the Inland Valley Swamps and bolilands, is rich in animal husbandry and is the only District with 5 ferries that are unseaworthy.
He went on to state that there is high rate of poverty in the District, that women are more active in agriculture in the District, that all the issues raised at the meeting are very important to the District and called for a Licensed Surveyor to plan the district disclosing that the Ministry of Agriculture has 100% devolved its functions to the Council and is the first to deploy a Director on the ground.
According to Mr. John Ditto Kamara, mankind is responsible for climate change citing Kono District and Sierra Rutile in the Moyamba District where large-scale mining has destroyed the environment.
Mr. Victor Bangura from the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) observed that in the past, investors did not do the right things and informed participants about the agro-business development approval process for Sierra Leone to help investors but pointed out that the process is different in every sector.
He also talked about the 7 steps to start a business to prevent problems citing the case of Socfin in Pujehun District, due diligence, background check of companies underscoring that the process must be inclusive, transparent and must involve all stakeholders from the inception stage adding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also mandated to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments, that SLIEPA monitors investments, ensures jobs and its multiplying effects and ended that SLIEPA is working with various stakeholders in the agriculture, fisheries and other sectors.
On the CSO perspectives on VGGT and National Land Policy, Mr. Abass Kamara of the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food said they monitor the activities of government and multi-national companies on how their work affects farmers, that most of the rice consumed in Sierra Leone is imported from Pakistan when Kambia and Port Loko Districts alone can feed the entire nation and even export and lamented that the $500 million Addax Bio Energy Company investment has collapsed.
He also accused Addax Bio Energy Company of giving money to Local Councils to support their illegal activities and commended the VGGT and Land Policy as exemplary in complementing the efforts of government intimating the 2003 Maputo Protocol calls on African Governments to spend 10% of their national budgets on agriculture revealing that in Sierra Leone it was 1.6% in 2011-2012 but has increased to over 12% now.
Mr. Abass Kamara also stated that 97 references were made from the VGGT to formulate the Land Policy, that the world has rated Sierra Leone high for implementation of the VGGT followed by Senegal and Mexico reiterating that the new Land Policy would reduce poverty and pointed out that Sierra Leone does not have a policy on biofuel.
Some of the questions/concerns raised by participants included the establishment of a special Land Court to fast-track cases, that investors should negotiate with landowners, that government must adequately compensate landowners, that Yogomayia in the Koinadugu District is the most planned city in the country and that a land plan not signed by Local Councils and Traditional Authorities is still valid.
Others were that the law protects Paramount Chiefs from testifying in court except with the permission of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice through the Minister of Local Government and that land appreciates daily.
Musical performances as well as distribution of the VGGT and the National Land Policy documents climaxed the two workshops.