Protecting Community Rights to Land in Sierra Leone

A new project in Sierra Leone is working to protect land rights, livelihoods and food security of vulnerable people while promoting sustainable businesses. This project applies the New Alliance Due Diligence Tool within a large-scale agricultural investment and works with local communities and the private sector to safeguard rights to land.

The project is supported by the LEGEND Challenge Fund, managed by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and implemented by Natural Habitats Sierra Leone and Solidaridad. Already, though this project, Solidaridad has established the first oil palm multi-stakeholder platform in Sierra Leone. This is well represented by different stakeholders including government, the private sector, community leaders, youth, women groups and other civil society organizations.

Mutually Acceptable Land Acquisition

In recent years, the government of Sierra Leone has taken steps to ensure the process for land acquisition is mutually acceptable to all parties. This process is anchored within the National Land Policy. The National Land Policy is guided by the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

New Alliance Due Diligence Tool

The New Alliance Due Diligence Tool is an analytical framework for due diligence in responsible land-based agricultural investments. It is designed to assist investors to align their policies and actions with national guidelines on responsible land-based investments. This is the first time a project is applying this tool by a large scale agricultural investor on its land acquisition efforts in Sierra Leone. Nicolas Jengre, Solidaridad Country Manager for Sierra Leone said:

"We are promoting transparency and ensuring all stakeholders are talking to each other to address the challenges associated with large-scale land acquisition in the project area."

History of Land Lease & Reduction of Concession

In 2014, Natural Habitats acquired a long-term agricultural lease covering the entirety of the Makpele chiefdom (41,128 hectares) in the Pujehun District. The aim of Natural Habitats is to reduce the original concession from 41,128 hectares to around 13,000 hectares, based on suitability of the land for oil palm production and feasibility of operations.

Moreover, the recently launched National Land Policy in Sierra Leone has put a threshold in place stating the maximum land area acquired for any single investment shall generally not exceed 5000 hectares. By keeping the nucleus farm below 5000 hectares and developing the surrounding area through an outgrower model, the investment of Natural Habitats can comply with the national policy. Besides the substantial reduction of the size of the land lease, the remaining lease agreements are now being negotiated at community level based on the informed consent of individual landowning families.  

Alie Muhamed Bao, Community Relations Manager with Natural Habitats Limited, believes that a strong relationship with the government, smallholder farmers, and local communities is impacting positively on the company’s operations. He said:

“Initially the communities were suspicious of our intentions but the dialogues and engagement has improved our relationship with them."

Community Legal Empowerment  

Solidaridad is working closely with Namati, a legal empowerment organization to strengthen the capacity of communities in the project area. The community members are provided with legal education and legal aid where necessary. Daniel Sessay is a Programme Officer with NAMATI. He has been part of the engagement from the very beginning and sees some progress. He said:

"Previously, the communities did not have this kind of space to discuss their grievances, so they sent their cases to wrong institutions for redress. Now they understand where to take their grievances for an appropriate solution. The communities are willing to dialogue with the company but are aware of the next line of action to take when they are not satisfied."

Community Mobilization & Livelihood Support

As part of enhancing food security in the project area, communities were supported to organize themselves into farmer groups and then trained in good agronomic practices for the production of some staple foods including groundnuts, rice and cassava among others. A total of 27 farmer groups have been formed and trained. Some of these farmers are being targeted to be enrolled as oil palm out-grower farmers for the company.

Ibrahim Yajoh is a 30-year farmer from Gokpoma. He chairs one of the farmer groups and speaks of the benefit of the intervention in his community. He said:

"The training we received enabled the farmers to work together as one people. We are happy about the training we received and share the knowledge with other people in our community. We had over 30 bags of groundnuts, the first ever in this community."

Key Results

Although it is early days yet, the project has proved impactful. Transparency has been enhanced in the acquisition of large-scale agricultural lands by Natural Habitats Sierra Leone Limited through an inclusive approach; the capacity of smallholders has been built on good agricultural practices on the selected crops and a multi-stakeholder platform created for dialogue on land acquisition and community development. There is also a significant reduction in tension and complaints between landowners and land users in the project area.

About the LEGEND Project

The objective of the project is to apply and test the Analytical Framework for Due Diligence in Responsible Land-Based Agricultural Investments on a large-scale oil palm plantation by Natural Habitats Ltd, Sierra Leone in Zimmi, Pujehun District. It is aimed at protecting the land rights, livelihoods and food security of vulnerable people while promoting sustainable businesses. This project is taking advantage of the recent adoption of Sierra Leone’s New Land Policy (NLP) which is inspired by the Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forest and Fisheries (VGGT) promoted by FAO and the Committee of World Food Security.

The project outcome is to formalize the land use rights of at least 3,000 landowners as well as enhance the food security situation by supporting the average yield increases of rice, beans and cassava by 50% for 3,000 smallholders. Average annual income of at least 3,000 smallholders is expected to be doubled. Ultimately organic, fair-trade and RSPO certified crude palm oil are expected to be exported from Sierra Leone by 2019.

Solidaridad works with Natural Habitats Ltd in collaboration with national NGO’s such as NAMATI, WOHRAD, Green Scenery and UNFAO Sierra Leone to apply and test the Analytical Framework for Due Diligence in Responsible Land-Based Agricultural Investments by way of promoting the implementation of the new National Land Policy.

Learn more about this project: 

For m
ore information about the DFID funded LEGEND programme, follow this link to the Land Policy Bulletin, May 2018.