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 timely 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.
The lease agreement was nowhere to be found.
Land owners in Malen chiefdom were not aware of basic facts of the Socfin SL agro-project. For instance, the rent paid per hectare per year, the size of the leased area in the chiefdom, if and how much land is left for farming, if they have to be resettled, and many more. The lack of transparency is going against international principles and best practices.
An Environmental, Social, and Health Impact Assessment (EISHA), a precondition for projects going along with responsible agro-investment, should have been conducted and publicly disclosed before company’s operations commenced.
On the 5th of March 2011 in the presence of armed security forces, the lease agreement was signed against payments from 173,000,000 Leones stacked on a table and paid to those signing the agreement.
“People felt intimidated by the armed police and we know that money is tempting. I call such a practice enticement. Especially in a context were people were heavily affected by the war, are poor, and never had chance to hold a couple of million Leones in their own hands,” said Joseph Rahall, Director of Green Scenery.
Green Scenery advises communities and land owners to take their time and consult carefully on what they have now, on how that could be improved and about the risks and benefits of large scale plantations before signing any document.
The organization is urging the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Sam Sesay, and the company to publish the lease agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding. The Environmental, Social, and Health Impact Assessment must be carried out immediately and made public before Socfin commences its operations. Green Scenery doubts that the cardinal values of “free”, “prior” and “informed” consent of land owners was secured as recommended by the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) guidelines for investors.