Land Deals in Africa: Sierra Leone

Reports and Briefs

From rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the current obsession for agricultural land borders on speculative mania as private companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign wealth funds join the land rush looking for lucrative deals in the developing world. An estimated 500 million acres, an area about ten times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased in the developing world in the last decade. The social, economic, and environmental impacts of this trend have been extensively researched and made public by the Oakland Institute.

This brief offers insight into a new class of companies, such as African Land Limited, that use the idea of helping African communities, together with deception around yields and profits, to dupe investors—including retired individuals who’ve handed over their life savings—to make more while doing good.

With the tagline “We Harvest—You Profit,” the UK-based African Land Limited offers an opportunity for land investment in poor countries that sounds too good to pass up. Unhappy investors, legal troubles, and a history of controversial directors reveal another story.

Based on field research conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, this report provides new and important information on the social, political and economic implications of current land investments in Sierra Leone.

Since 2004, the World Bank has provided continuous “investment climate advisory services” to Sierra Leone. Business reforms and Bank-piloted programs such as Sierra Leone Business Forum and the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency led to the World Bank classifying Sierra Leone among “the top 15 economies that improved their business regulatory environment the most” since 2005 and rank the country third in the regional “Protection of Investors” category. In the agricultural sector, reforms around land, mapping of parcels, and fast-tracking land leasing processes have attracted investors eager to develop large-scale monocrop plantations of sugar cane or oil palm, which deprive local communities of their resources and undermine human, social, and environmental rights in Sierra Leone.

The Oakland Institute is proud to have sponsored the first ever assembly of communities impacted by large-scale foreign land investments in Sierra Leone. Between April 1-4, 2012 farmers, small land owners, women, youth, and elders assembled in Freetown to have their voices heard and strategize a way forward. Joan Baxter, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute reports from the meeting.

In 2011, Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd. (Socfin SL) secured 6,500 hectares (ha) of prime farmland for rubber and oil palm plantations in Malen chiefdom in Pujehun district in the south of Sierra Leone. The firm is now seeking an additional 5,000 ha in expansion plans in the Malen region or neighboring chiefdoms. The initial investment, estimated at $100 million, with promises of job creation, compensation for lost farms, and construction of infrastructures, has enjoyed high-level government support. The 50-year lease was signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Dr. Sam Sesay.

In this series of press briefings, Green Scenery examines some key assumptions behind the acquisition of farmland in Sierra Leone, to promote informed public debate. This first briefing note looks into land “availability” in Sierra Leone.

Quifel International Holdings (QIH) is the Lisbon-based personal holding of businessman Eng. Miguel Pais do Amaral, a Portuguese aristocrat, businessman, and former majority owner of the Media Capital Group.

Addax Bioenergy Sierra Leone Limited is the company behind the most developed land deal in Sierra Leone to date. “Renewable energy” subsidiary of Addax & Oryx Group, a Swiss-based energy corporation, Addax has leased 20,000 hectares for 50 years in the Bombali district to grow sugarcane to produce ethanol for export to Europe and electricity from the by-products to be sold in Sierra Leone.