Posts Tagged ‘agribusiness’

Photo: Nick Roll via CSM.
Washing in polluted water. Under new laws, “firms wishing to mine or establish industrial agriculture operations must henceforth strike deals with the ordinary Sierra Leoneans who depend on the land for their survival,” says the Monitor.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel hopeful when ordinary people stick up for themselves. The powerful and selfish don’t always have to win. Capitalism has gotten out of hand and now resembles nothing so much as the monarchies of old.

Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, folks suffering from the excesses of mining giants and agribusiness are not going to take it anymore.

Nick Roll has the story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Solomon K. Russell walks down a narrow dirt path, surrounded by teak trees that block out the sunlight and cool the afternoon air. He leaps over a column of fat black ants running across the trail, and the forest suddenly, unnaturally, ends. A denuded strip of beige earth stretches over an area the size of several football fields, pockmarked by pits full of wastewater. 

“Machinery belonging to the Afro-Asia Mining Corp., a Chinese firm, rumbles in the distance. The remnant of a stream, polluted and diverted by the industrial operations, idles underneath a small wooden bridge. 

“ ‘This river really sustained the life of the people,’ says Mr. Russell, who remembers, as a boy, jumping off the bridge into the water just a few feet below. Now, it’s barely ankle-deep. …

“Mr. Russell and his fellow villagers had no say in Afro-Asia’s arrival, nor in its operations. The company signed its lease with the local ‘paramount chief’ who was empowered by a century-old colonial law.

“But a sweeping package of land-rights bills, which went into effect in September, is set to change all that, giving local people who own and live off the land the authority to decide how it is used.

“ ‘Those laws will help,’ says Mary Tommy, a farmer living in this 500-strong farming community made up of brightly painted concrete houses and mud brick homes with traditional high-pitched thatch roofs. ‘For us, the destruction has already been caused, but for other areas that have not witnessed this kind of destruction, I think it will be good.’

“Many parts of Sierra Leone have been ravaged by foreign mining firms seeking gold, diamonds, and bauxite, among other minerals, and by palm oil plantations. Such natural resources accounted for over 75% of Sierra Leone’s exports in 2020, reaping around $400 million in income, according to official figures.

“Yet the wealth has been slow to trickle down. The latest figures on poverty in the country, from 2018, showed that 60% of the rural population was living on less than $1.90 a day.

“People say ‘our land is our bank, our land is our future,’ ” says Eleanor Thompson, deputy director of programs at the Freetown office of Namati, a legal advocacy and land-rights organization. …

“Until last month, only local chiefs and the national government could strike land use and leasing deals with foreign investors. The people whose land was taken could do little about it, and often had to accept rents amounting to only $5 an acre.

“Mr. Russell, for example, says his rent is ‘too meager’ to be able to buy from the market the fish he can no longer catch in the village stream.

“But under the new laws, firms wishing to mine or establish industrial agriculture operations must henceforth strike deals with the ordinary Sierra Leoneans who depend on the land for their survival – and who, for the first time, will have the right to negotiate, or reject, their proposals.

“September’s Customary Land Rights Act and the National Land Commission Act transfer the power to make decisions about land to those actually owning or using it. Companies seeking a lease must win the consent of 60% of a family’s male and female adults.

“Where land is communally held, firms must persuade 60% of the adults in the community to agree to a lease. In the newly created land committees that are supposed to help negotiate those leases, made of local community members, 30% of members are to be women.

“The new laws are not popular with foreign investors, many of whom are especially wary of a provision setting aside shares in international projects for Sierra Leoneans.

‘Nobody will invest in Sierra Leone anymore,’ says Gerben Haringsma, country director for the Luxembourg-based palm oil company Socfin. …

“Ms. Thompson, the land rights activist, says the laws might, however, help investors more than they realize. ‘It’s in the investors’ interest to have the consent of people,’ she says. …

“Acts of sabotage and deadly protests against agribusiness and mining companies have erupted in the past.

“ ‘If people had a say in negotiations they would sell their land for a … value that will enrich them and change their lives, maybe,’ says Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, executive director of the Freetown-based Society for Democratic Initiatives.

“In Largo, villagers say that Afro-Asia promised to build them a health clinic, a school, and paved roads. Four years after mining operations started, none of that has come to pass, and the locals who have found jobs at the mine earn little more than $50 a month.

“Afro-Asia did not respond to a request for comment. But the company’s lease in Largo is in its final year. To keep operating, it will have to renegotiate – this time with the local community under the new laws.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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