Friday, May 24, 2013

Selling and Buying Sierra Leone

In southern Sierra Leone the Paramount Chief is the supreme traditional authority in the Kpaka Chiefdom. The Paramount Chief leased their land to a foreign company without consulting the people nor without the consent of the family heads who are the customary landowners. They have never even laid eyes on the lease agreement, which was signed in January 2011 by the Paramount Chief. It gives an Indian company, Biopalm Energy, control of nearly 20,000 hectares (close to 50,000 acres) of land in Kpaka Chiefdom for 50 years, with a possible extension of 21 years. The lease in Kpaka Chiefdom is just one - and indeed the smallest - of eight registered agreements in seven of the 12 chiefdoms in Pujehun District. Three of them are held by Biopalm Energy, which is acquiring vast land holdings in Africa and Asia to "become the largest global player in the production of sustainable palm oil." According to Green Scenery, the Siva Group is now the largest landowner in Pujehun District, with close to 100,000 hectares, nearly one quarter of the total area of the entire district. The company is part of the complex corporate web of the Siva Group, an Indian conglomerate registered in Singapore and owned by the elusive Indian billionaire, Chinnakannan Sivasankaran.

The Sierra Leonean NGO Green Scenery calculates that in the past three years in Pujehun District, large investors, primarily representing foreign interests, have taken out long-term leases on at least 248,219 hectares [613,362 acres] - more than 60 percent of the total area of and 81 percent of all the arable land - in Pujehun District. Most of the investors that have leased farmland in Pujehun District plan to use it not for food production, but for industrial plantations of oil palm. Annual rents vary from about 23 US cents to US $12.35 per hectare [9 cents to $5 per acre). Green Scenery warns that the poor compensation rates and the concentration of land in the hands of a few corporate investors will leave local farming communities with very little to live off after their land is converted to giant plantations and they've lost their farm fields, forest fallows and valuable economic trees.

In the Malen Chiefdom Socfin Agricultural Company (SL) Limited, a subsidiary of the giant Luxemburg-registered Socfin Group, has leased 6,575 hectares [16,247 acres] for oil palm plantations, and is looking to double its land holdings. The situation was so tense that in late 2012, aggrieved landowners in Malen Chiefdom called on the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission to come to their assistance.
Five other large land leases in Pujehun have been taken out by four different companies, which involve a very small group of associates from Sierra Leone and the UK. Since 2009, using seven different companies, these individuals have been involved in eight leases totalling close to 265,000 hectares of land in Sierra Leone. Two of those companies - and thus the land leases - have already been sold off to Biopalm Energy, one for US $5 million and another for $1.5 million.

In 2011, another company, Redbunch Ventures Limited, secured a lease for nearly 45,000 hectares in Barri Chiefdom in Pujehun District. Redbunch was subsequently taken over byAgriterra, a cattle and grain-trading business, when it acquired the parent company, Shawford Investments Inc. Such deals smack of speculation and quick profits.

According to a former agent for Quifel Agribusiness (SL) Limited, a subsidiary of Quifel Natural Resources of Portugal, it has three leases in Port Loko District in northern Sierra Leone, although staff in the Registrar's office could find just one. In 2010, a Quifel country representative reported that the company held a total of 120,000 hectares [296,526 acres]. Another large chunk of Port Loko District (41,582 hectares, 102,751 acres) is owned by one of the companies that Biopalm Energy purchased, Sierra Leone Agriculture. And yet another has been leased by West Africa Agriculture (32,441 hectares, 80,163 acres), a company that is linked with the same British and Sierra Leonean individuals that have scooped up so much land in Pujehun.

Addax Bioenergy Limited, a subsidiary of the Malta-based Swiss company, Addax & Oryx Group, originally acquired 57,000 hectares [140,850 acres] straddling two districts in the north of the country. The land is for sugar cane plantations to provide the raw stock for ethanol for export to Europe. According to Derek Higgo, Health, Security, Social Affairs and Environment Manager of Addax Bioenergy, by March 2013 the company had surrendered more than half of the land, but still held about 24,500 hectares [60,541 acres].

The Sierra Leone government is providing the Chinese company Hainan Natural Rubber Group ,000 hectares [333,592 acres] of land in the country for rubber and rice in exchange for a 10 percent share. An Italian company, FNP Agriculture Limited, holds a lease on 15,000 hectares [37,066 acres] in the north of the country. Other investors claiming large land holdings in the country include the British firm Lion Mountains Agrico. Ltd (14,000 hectares or 34,594 acres), and another British firm, Whitestone Agriculture (SL) Ltd. (542,279 hectares or 1.3 million acres) in the north of the country.

José Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, compared "land grabs" in Africa to the "Wild West" and said that a "sheriff" was needed to restore the rule of law. Sierra Leone has become part of the "Wild West."

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