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Sierra Leone Opposition Urges Scrapping of Land Deals

June 30, 2011
Agence France Presse

FREETOWN — A leading Sierra Leone opposition party has called on the government to cancel major land deals signed with international investors, saying they were taking away the livelihood of peasant farmers.

"We are demanding that government cancel those agreements and appoint local committees to oversee the transfer of the lands back to the community people," National Democratic Alliance spokesman Mohamed Bah told journalists.

The statement came just days after Swiss energy group Addax & Oryx announced it had signed a 258 million euro ($368 million) deal to finance a renewable energy project in which it has leased over 50,000 hectares of land.

The project, which will include the development of a sugarcane plantation, the construction of an ethanol refinery and a biomass power station has been criticised by NGOs, which said it could lead to food insecurity for the country.

"Our party is deeply concerned about the manner in which the government has been letting out a vast area of the country to multinational corporations," said Bah.

"Our records showed that 10 percent of the country's estimated 5.4 million hectares of arable land suitable for farming have been let out.

"We would not like to see another Zimbabwe in this part of the world," he cautioned adding that "the issue of land is a serious human right concern as most of the people whose lands have been taken are peasant farmers and would need the land for their livelihood."

Reacting to the criticisms, Addax said that it had developed its project "on the basis of dialogue."

"Detailed discussions were held over more than two years" with the landowners, local and national authorities, as well as civil society, said Nikolai Germann, who heads Addax Energy, in a statement.