By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Solidaridad on 26th February 2019 hosted a one-day national learning and exchange workshop on practical applications of the provisions of the national land policy in the context of agricultural investment in Sierra Leone at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Aberdeen, Freetown.
In partnership with Natural Habitats the workshop was organized in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone, NAMATI, a legal empowerment organization and FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization, bringing together all stakeholders- land owning families/land owners, Paramount Chiefs and other local authorities, Government of Sierra Leone, private sector companies, CSOs, women groups, youth groups, donors and the media to share lessons and experiences from their involvement in agricultural investments in the country and charting the way forward to responsible land based investments.
The objective of the workshop focused on the lessons and experiences from the LEGEND project and to incorporate the learning in further roll out of the National Land Policy, specifically to guide land based investments in a responsible way.
The discussion centered mainly around Solidaridad’s successful implementation of the UKaid funded LENGEND (Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development) project in Makpele chiefdom, Pujehun District, Southern Sierra Leone; foiling potential conflict between community land owners and a company called Natural Habitats Sierra Leone (NHSL), investing in large scale oil palm plantation in the chiefdom.
The company had inherited a lease agreement of 30,700 hectares of land for palm oil cultivation from an initial investing company called West Africa Agriculture 2 in which the deal was not known to the land owning families and devoid of the transparency espoused by the palm oil industry principles- Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Apparently signed by few local stakeholders on behalf of the community, the disclosure of the lease agreement brewed disenchantment between the land owning people of Makpele and the company. Conflict was already brewing when Solidaridad intervened and brought all stakeholders together using the ‘open talk’ model to resolve the issue in favour of every party after a massive reduction of the original 30,700 hectares concession to 2,320 hectares.
The Paramount Chief who signed the original lease on behalf of the community had passed away, but his successor (PC Seffa Tamu) and other community stakeholders- Mammy Queen, the local court Chairman, youth leader and representatives of chiefdom organizations protecting the rights of land owners and land users were all present at the workshop. Each of them gave a brief account of their involvement and their roles in resolving the land dispute, and pledged their commitment to ensure NHSL operate in the chiefdom- within the boundaries of the newly agreed lease- without any hindrance from the community people.
Giving a power point presentation after showing a documentary of the intervention in the chiefdom, Solidaridad Sierra Leone Country Representative, Nicholas Jengre, outlined the six strategies used in their intervention namely, inclusive stakeholder engagement, establishment of chiefdom Multi-Stakeholder Platform, gender-sensitive land tenure trainings, capacity building of all stakeholders to participate effectively in the process, contracting a legal non-governmental organization NAMATI to review NHSL lease to ensure compliance with the National Land Policy of Sierra Leone and alternative livelihood.
The key results from the application of these strategies include transparency in the NHSL lease agreement; recommended land acquisition steps in Makpele chiefdom developed; 28,000 hectares ceded to the land owners; a new lease signed in the presence of all key stakeholders and the press; 35% of women are signatory to the new lease; peace and unity in the chiefdom restored; capacity of stakeholders built on land governance, with greater negotiation ability of land owning families in future land deals; while 6,500 people across seven Chiefdoms in three districts trained on key provisions of the National Land Policy (NLP).
The intervention also included supporting 900 farmers in eight communities in the Makpele Chiefdom in the cultivation of rice, cassava and groundnut. Additionally, 20 village savings and loan schemes involving 543 members (441 female and 102 male) have been established, trained, supported with kits and are currently making significant savings.
“The lessons we learnt from our intervention are key for any future land based investment in the country,” said Nicholas.
These lessons, include the importance of inclusive stakeholder engagement;the multi-stakeholder platform as necessary for building trust and fostering peaceful negotiations; respect for divergent views; building capacity of key stakeholders; importance of alternative livelihood support schemes; institutional collaboration for leveraging on different expertise and the importance of women and youth participation in decision making.
Two Ministers of Government, Lands and Rural Development, Hon. Dr. Denis Sandy and Hon. Tetema Tondoneh, hailed Solidaridad and its partners for the success story of Makpele and urged the agri-based organization to replicate its strategies to other hot spots in the country. However, both ministers lamented the exclusion of their ministries in many of the lease agreements signed in the rural areas by potential investors and land owning communities and warned for the practice to desist henceforth.
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development’s Economic Growth Team Leader in Sierra Leone, Bobby Stansfield, indicated that responsible agricultural investment is an important focus of UK Aid DFID’s work to promote trade, investment and private sector development and, it is right for the small West African country. The LEGEND project which is financed by DFID is in the right direction.
“This is an area that the UK Government believes passionately about. Responsible agricultural investment is right for the environment, it is right for business and the economy, it is right for communities- especially women, and it is right for Sierra Leone,” said Stansfield.
Meanwhile, a key takeaway from the workshop is for the effective implementation of the National Land Policy with a legal empowerment focus to guarantee responsible agribusiness investment in the country.