By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla
Many African countries including Sierra Leone are seeking better ways of attracting responsible agri-based investments as a catalyst for achieving economic growth through industralization. However, analysis shows that large-scale agricultural investment in Sierra Leone is yet to meet the international Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) principles for enhancing local livelihoods.
To strike a balance between attracting foreign agricultural investments while ensuring a responsible investment climate, the Government, led by the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) is in the process of finalizing a tool known as the ‘Agribusiness Investment Approval Process (AIAP)’. The tool is currently being tested on existing four investment companies to assess the applicability while ensuring that existing legislations are aligned with the AIAP.
The project, ‘Supporting the Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests – Phase II’ is funded by DFID. Through this project Solidaridad West Africa was contracted to train and sensitize Traditional Authorities and communities on the Agribusiness Investment Approval Process (AIAP) in line with Responsible Agricultural Investments (RAI) in Sierra Leone.
As part of creating awareness and building the capacity towards this drive, a two-day workshop was organized from August 2-3, 2019 for staff of the four pilot companies including Sierra Tropical, Miro Forestry, Lizard Earth and Gold Tree Holdings Limited. The training was conducted by Solidaridad Sierra Leone and facilitated by members of the Responsible Agricultural Investment Technial Working Group (RAI-TWG) drawn from the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Ministry of Lands Housing and Environment (MLHE), the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Transparency International (TI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN).This training forms part of the agreement between FAO-UN and Solidaridad West Africa to conduct training and sensitization for traditional authorities, communities and staff of four pilot agribusiness companies on the AIAP.
In his welcome address, Nicholas Jengre, the Country Representative of Solidaridad Sierra Leone, said “One of the key components of the Agribusiness Investment Approval Process (AIAP) is to empower community people and landowners to have a say on what their land is used for. In the past, we have seen that investments have deprived communities of land to grow food crops – thereby increasing the food and nutrition insecurity within such investment sites.”
Mr. Nicholas reminded participants of the recently released 2018 FAO Food Index Report entitled: “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, which revealed an alarming 820,000,000 people in the world who did not have enough to eat in 2018. Africa, he continues, was largely affected. “We cannot continue in this way, so the AIAP is supporting the drive to ensure that agribusinesses are carried out in ways that ensures communities have sufficient land for crop production and significant vegetation for their natural resource needs”.
The Investment Promotion Manager of the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), Hardy Jalloh assured participants that the finalized investment approval process would bring in more investors because it will not only guarantee sustainability but also security of their investments.
The seven steps of the AIAP includes 1) a potential investor contacts SLIEPA 2) SLIEPA and the potential investor visits potential communities 3) the investor undertakes feasibility and identifies legitimate land owners 4)The investor negotiates with land owners 5) the investor conducts environmental, social and health impact studies 6) signing of agreement and 7) Start of operations.
While facilitating the training, the National Project Consultant of the project, Mr. Gbessay Ehlogima Sam Momoh reiterated the importance of the training in helping to create a conducive environment for investors to be responsible, accountable, transparent, and respecting the ten principles in responsible agricultural investment. Other relevant concepts relating to the AIAP were delivered during this training session by the RAI-TWG members: the key provisions in the National Land Policy by Jobo Samba from the Ministry of Land, Housing and Environment (MLHE), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and priority areas of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) by Jeneba Ahlarzm , environmental compliance and the seven stages in conducting environmental impact assessment by Alfred Jondie from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Human Rights Commission led by Abdulai Yolla Bangura presented on the human perspectives as well as the Free Prior and Informed Consent principles while Edward Koroma from Transparency International presented on Transparency and Accountability in line with the AIAP.
Lyttelton Braima, a participant from Sierra Tropical Limited stressed that effective community consultation processes will ensure a smooth take-off of any agribusiness project since all stakeholders would have been well informed. He appealed to his colleagues to ensure that companies set up multistakeholder platforms at their investment sites to promote effective consultations.