Sierra Leone’s information minister is denying accusations that government land sales to international investors are illegal.
Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said, “It is not true that we gave this land to people illegally. We also have protected our people by insisting that each company that operates in this country in the area of agriculture for the purposes of producing biofuels must also meet certain cooperate responsibilities.”
Kargbo said the sales will encourage investment, leading to more jobs and lower youth unemployment.
But the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) expressed concern that the sales are hurting peasant farmers, who it says will lose their land and their livelihoods.
The government denies its policies will hurt them. Kargbo said that over the last 100 years, Sierra Leone has used only 11 percent of its five million hectares of arable land.
Addax & Oryx, a Swiss-based energy group, announced it has acquired about 50,000 hectares for a renewable energy plant.
The project, the energy group said, will also include a sugarcane plantation and an ethanol refinery plant.
At a meeting with reporters, opposition spokesman Mohamed Bah, demanded the government “cancel those agreements and appoint local committees to oversee the transfer of the lands back to the people in the community.”
Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) say the project could cause food shortages, a charge Kargbo denies.
“The government thought as a way of bringing in investment, we could encourage those people who are interested in biofuels to invest in the agricultural sector,” said Kargbo. “We have made very certain that we did not give them inland swamps, which are very suitable for crop production.”