BBC African land grabs debate

Suzanne Fisher's picture
Blog by
28 February 2012

Land acquisitions in Africa have often been portrayed as a development opportunity or as land grabbing. What follows are tweets before, during and after a heated debate on whether land grabs are good for Africa, broadcast live by the BBC World Service from Sierra Leone.

The tweets below reflected similar sentiments to those expressed by the public at the debate, who broadly questioned whether the government was always working in the best interest of Sierra Leone's citizens and called for greater transparency when deals were being negotiated. An individual called Chief Moba said "things are very very opaque ...locals are not benefiting at all."  Another man, called Lansanah Hasan Sona, alleged that "there was no free, prior informed consent from the community" in Makeni when the company ADDAX Bioenergy Sierra Leone Limited secured land in the country's fourth largest city for growing sugarcane and cassava for ethanol. He said that four communities had lost out on access to water sources as a result of the deal. According to the BBC: "The government describes the project as Sierra Leone's flagship agricultural investment." The company didn't take part in the debate.

A woman at the debate called Harriet pointed out that women, who are the key subsistence farmers in the country, are excluded from community negotiations during land deals and often have to resort to "backyard farming," as this is the only agricultural land they have access to. "Women aren't considered in the negotiations – only the men – we are sitting in the houses, we are sitting at the backyard waiting for them," she said.

One of the questions posed was whether the new wave of land grabs was "just a form of neo-colonialism".

Ruth Aine sees the land acquisitions as "opportunities".

Dr. Kolleh Bangura, Director of the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency agreed. He said that in Makeni  "lives have been transformed,"  referring to the indirect benefits that the investment brought to the community: "petrol stations are full, guest houses are full", he said. 

But Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, continually pressed the government for concrete figures on the benefits brought to the country. "I think there's debate ...that this kind of investment will lead to food security, will create jobs," she said. "I would love to hear concrete numbers – how many jobs have been created. ...Our research shows that in Sierra Leone till January last year (just in agriculture) over 500, 000 hectares of land were leased. I would love to know what kind of revenue has been contributed to the national budget and where that money is being used." No figures were provided by the government during the debate.

A blog written by IIED researcher Lorenzo Cotula on land grabs published by the BBC helped set up some of the key issues prior to the debate. Read the full blog.

If this has piqued your interest, listen to the whole debate. Then please let me know what you think - leave a comment. Thanks

Find out more. Read IIED's briefing: Farms and funds: investment funds in the global land rush

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