Men sit at a table to sign a new lease agreement.
News & Blogs

Historic Signing Validates New Land Laws

The pounding of drums, the rhythmic chatter of segureh, and the dancing of women were symbolic. Within a land investment space plagued by disorder, self-interest, and greed, the celebrations were an indication that victory is possible. They were a culmination of 8 years of grueling back-and-forth negotiations, during which two revolutionary new laws were passed.

The Namati office in the Eastern Region had received a strange complaint from a small village called Ngovokpahun. According to them, an Italian Agriculture company to whom they had leased a significant portion of their land, had just up and vanished without a trace. Along with the complaint were claims that lease rent due them had not been paid in two years. Namati took on the case of the vanishing company and managed to track down the company Chairman Dr. Roberto Mirani. Once Dr. Mirani had explained that he had suspended operations due to the Ebola pandemic two years earlier, the discussion that followed became much more familiar.

Land investment in Sierra Leone has been characterized by unlawful deals conducted between investment companies and chiefdom councils meant to represent actual landowning families. Left out of the negotiation process, landowning families do not get Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and typically end up getting a raw deal. Forced to make do with inadequate and inconsistent compensation for their properties, they often have to endure the effects of company activities such as air and water pollution. Verbal promises made by companies to develop local infrastructure such as roads, schools, health facilities, etc. often remain unfulfilled.

In the case of Ngovokpahun Village, landowners were being severely underpaid for land that they were not convinced Italian Agriculture had surveyed correctly. “We decided to push for a renegotiation of the agreement,” recalls Namati Programmes Officer Baindu Koroma. This began with participatory mapping of the land that included representatives of Namati, the company, the landowning families, and the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Country Planning. After reaching a consensus on the total acreage of the land in question, the push toward renegotiations continued in earnest. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 rendered community visits by Namati impossible and slowed the process down to a crawl.

Complete normalcy would return two years later and the renegotiations continued. By this time, two laws – the Customary Land Rights Act and the National Land Commission Act had been passed. The Italian Agricultural Company had also changed its name to One More Seed. The new lease agreement had to be negotiated in line with the CLRA, which is designed to eliminate discrimination under customary law. This was very good news for the landowners of Ngovokpahun. “It meant that landowners were now entitled to 90% of the money paid in lease rent, whereas before, they only got 50%. The remaining 50% went to chiefdom councils, district councils, and the Sierra Leone government in withholding tax,” Baindu explains. It also meant that landowners were now required by law to negotiate directly with companies, instead of through chiefdom councils. Now in a position to request better compensation for their lands, the landowners were able to increase their payment from 5 dollars per acre per year to 15 dollars per acre per year.

The signing of the new lease agreement between One More Seed and the landowning families of Ngovokpahun proved that the new laws could be a game changer. It was a glimpse of the overall outcome intended for land investment in Sierra Leone – dancing on all sides!

June 3, 2024 | Namati

Region: Sierra Leone