16 August 2012

Sierra Leone: Culture Radio Holds Forum on Land Grabbing

As part of its advocacy against land grabbing in the country, Culture Radio FM 104.5 has held a roundtable forum at the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) conference hall, with theme: 'The effects of investment in land for agro fuel production'.

The main thrust of the forum was to educate the public on the complexities of investment in land for agro fuel production and to discuss means through which a win-win situation could be achieved.

Speaking on the role of parliamentarians in tackling issues of land grabbing and the difficulties involved, Hon. Shaka Sama representing Constituency 88 in the Pujehun District, referred to the move to lease out vast tracts of arable land to foreign investors for agro fuel production and other uses as a threat to the peace the country is currently enjoying, especially given the amount of money paid for the lands and the fact that local farmers and families are being dispossessed of their lands.

Hon. Sama condemned the method being used to acquire the lands, stressing that the people who are the actual owners of the property were excluded from the negotiations and that proper sensitization was not done to educate communities affected on the short and long term negative effects.

Being opposed to the idea of leasing out vast areas of land to foreign companies for periods exceeding 50 years, Hon. Sama said attempts have been made to get him to compromise his stance but to no avail, adding that "an attempt was made to bribe me and when that failed they tried to intimidate me by subjecting me to police interrogation on grounds that I incited a protest action against the company operating in my constituency".

He congratulated Culture Radio for being the only radio station in the country that has taken up the issue, nothing that "the role of the media is crucial in the fight against land grabbing".

In her remarks, the Deputy Executive Director of the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), Madam Rosemarie Blake, informed that her organization currently works on a scheme that is geared towards providing legal assistance to persons affected by land grabbing.

She called on victims of land grabbing to bring forward their complaints, but warned that persons bringing in such complaints must be prepared to press charges and follow up their matters till the end.

Earlier in his remarks, Elijah M.I. Gegra, Director of Culture Radio, referred to land grabbing as a cause for concern and called on the government of Sierra Leone to review its policy of leasing out land to foreign companies.

Mr. Gegra said such an investment is geared towards worsening the hunger and poverty situation in the country rather than to bring in much needed development. According to him, communities affected by land grabbing have already started feeling the pinch as prices of food and other basic commodities have risen up considerable, thereby making life much more difficult for them.

In his vote of thanks, the Station Manager of Culture Radio, Theophilus S. Gbenda, expressed fears that should the current wave of leasing out massive agricultural lands to foreigners continue, there will be little or no land left for local farmers to practice their traditional farming activities.

This, according to Mr. Gbenda, undermines the country's food security drive.

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