Sunday, August 11, 2013

Who Is Benefitting? Wholesale Landgrab Further Impoverishes The Poor

Yet another account of the damaging effects of foreign companies acquiring land in other countries with the single aim of accumulating profits. The oft-repeated claim of great swathes of 'unused land' is again here just not true. Also note that whilst 70% of Sierra Leone's population survives on less than $2 a day (below the national poverty line), the country's smallholder farmers account for nearly 50% of GDP.
Whilst ALLAT and other similar benevolent alliances and associations work extremely hard to reveal the truth and make great efforts to minimalise the negative outcomes on local populations and their livelihoods and environments, unfortunately the best they can hope for is to ameliorate some of the effects of the entrenched capitalist system wreaking havoc around the globe. Righting the wrongs such as we read of here can only be achieved by complete system change. JS

Sierra Leone land grabs increase poverty and hunger says ALLAT Action for Large Scale Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT)

Media Release 26 July 2013

The rush for farmland by foreign investors engaged in industrial-scale plantation agriculture in Sierra Leone has increased poverty and food shortages among communities who have lost their access to land, the report launched by ALLAT reveals. The report estimates that one fifth of the country’s arable land has been leased since 2009 for industrial farming purposes, many of them for producing biofuels from crops such as oil palm and sugar cane.

A report launched today, ‘Who Is Benefitting?' (pdf) examines the impact on local communities of large land leases held by three investors. The research was commissioned by Action for Large scale Land Acquisition Transparency, with support from ALLAT’s development partners. ALLAT views that government contracts on lease hold for up to 99 years with industrial scale agro- investors, is too long. The acquisition of these leases must be more transparent adhering to the principles of free prior and informed consent and should respect the country’s laws. The government and companies must pay cognizance to international guidelines including international human rights laws that emphasise the protection of local people and the environment.

ALLAT is also worried about the tax breaks offered to foreign companies to persuade them to invest. ALLAT believes that Sierra Leone is losing many millions of dollars each year in revenue. For instance tax breaks enjoyed by two of SLCGG the leaseholders, Addax Bioenergy (SL) Ltd, and Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd, along with a third company, Goldtree Ltd, reveal that an estimated total of US$18.8million a year is lost in revenue to the government in respect of just those three deals.

One problem identified by Joseph Rahall of Green Scenery, a member organisation of ALLAT, is the government’s claim that just 11-15 per cent of the country’s arable land is being ‘used’ and that there is plenty of room for foreign investors. ‘This claim ignores from the debate the farming system practiced in Sierra Leone showing the lack of understanding of the way the country’s smallholder farmers, who account for nearly 50% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, use the land,’ he asserts.

Frank Williams, ALLAT’s Coordinator, observed that ‘communities in the three impact areas investigated reported increased levels of poverty, poorer and fewer meals eaten each day, children, especially girls, are taken out of school and increased incidents of social ills such as teenage pregnancy, broken marriages and theft.’ In all three lease areas, local people said they would not have agreed to the land deals were it not for promises made to them about jobs, and the building of roads, along with improved health and education facilities, electricity, and water wells. These had not been fulfilled to their expectations, with the companies maintaining that they need to start full production and receive returns on their investment before they can create all the jobs that have been promised.

Sierra Leone, which is struggling to rebuild after a lengthy civil war, ranks among the world’s least developed countries, at 180th of 187 nations on the 2011 United Nations’ Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 47.8 years, under-five mortality is one of the highest in the world at 192 per 1,000 live births, and adult literacy is about 41%. In total, some 70% of its population of about 5.5 million falls below the national poverty line of US$2 a day. ALLAT believes that these figures can change if as a country we pay particular attention to the governance of our natural resources and design cohesive and comprehensive national development agenda.

The Agenda for Prosperity is a launch pad for the progress of the country but it should carefully navigate development paradigms that hurt our nation. The leases examined are held by Addax Bioenergy (SL) Ltd, Sierra Leone Agriculture and Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd.

From the findings of this report ALLAT therefore calls for the following actions by government:
• A moratorium on further large scale land investments including those in the pipeline until existing concerns raised by various stakeholders are addressed,
• A review of all existing contracts, ensuring that they adhere to the UN FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the context of National Food Security,
• Develop environmental regulation that will guide and regulate how industrial scale agricultural businesses should carry out their operations.
• Reviewed Tax incentives to allow for revenue to be generated by the government from the investments.
• Undertake a land use plan that will help Sierra Leone attain sustainable land management; this should include a land cadastre.

- See more here.

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