The people are most times, if not always, excluded from the entire process of planning and decision making even though it’s their land,” said Hon. Tondoneh, shortly after formally declaring open a one-day workshop on the Implementation of the National Land Policy in the context of Responsible Agricultural Investments at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Aberdeen, Freetown, on Tuesday 26th February, 2019.
Citing the recent land conflict involving Socfin agriculture company and the community people of Sahn Malen in Pujehun District as one bad example of land use agreement for agricultural investment, the Minister said most times the relevant line ministries or authorities are usually left out in many of the planning and designing for land acquisition for investment purposes, especially in the rural areas.
“The Paramount Chiefs are not the owners of the land; they are just the holders or custodians. The people are the owners. They must be involved every step of the way and potential investors must follow the laid down procedures through the relevant ministries of Government,” stressed Hon. Tondoneh.
Additionally, he mentioned a certain NGO currently involved in land reclamation in Kono district without the authority of the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Lands and Ministry of Local Government as well as the local people.
“They (the NGO) got funding from somewhere and they just went into implementation. The emerging consequence of this misguided action is that the people in the district are now clamoring for ownership of the reclaimed lands,” explained Hon. Tondoneh.
The deputy minister further questioned the essence of such types of investment if they do not positively change the conditions or situation of the people but only worsens it.
“Every investment activity has to be community-owned and community-driven. No more supply-driven approaches. Sustainable land use, responsible agricultural investment and peace within the community are essential benchmarks to determine all future investor interventions,” said the Deputy Minister.
People in the rural areas of Sierra Leone are predominantly subsistence farmers and they depend on their land for their livelihood.
Meanwhile, Hon. Tondoneh revealed that with support from the European Union, his ministry has developed Operational Guidelines for all investment interventions and is at an advance stage of putting together the Rural Development and Coordination Policy, which he claims will address all of the challenges currently associated with land use and development in the rural areas. He said there will be a retreat on the second week of March 2019 to finalize this policy.
Describing the workshop as very timely, the Deputy Minister called on every stakeholder to support the implementation of the new policy.
The workshop, organized by Solidaridad, seeks to share experiences and lessons learnt from their successful intervention in Makpele chiefdom where tensions were mounting between the people and the company Natural Habitats Sierra Leone (NHSL) regarding the lease of 30,700 hectares of land for agricultural purposes. NHSL inherited the lease from West Africa Agriculture II but the people disowned the agreement claiming they were ignorant of such. Solidaridad’s intervention brought all stakeholders together through its DFID-funded LEGEND (Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development) project applying international best practices. One of the key outcomes is the reduction of the NHSL’s concession from 30,700 hectares to 2,320 hectares, with a total of 28,380 hectares ceding back to the people of Makpele chiefdom.
Solidaridad is not-for-profit organization that works globally towards the sustainable production of commodities and has built a reputation as a catalyst for sustainable innovations in commodity supply chain in 50 years. The goal is to improve livelihoods for vulnerable producers, while respecting the environment, one another and the next generation.