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Securing land tenure rights for farmers in Sierra Leone

©Sebastian Liste/NOOR for FAO

Protecting farmers’ access to land and natural resources

Key Facts

In Sierra Leone, the livelihoods of many people depend on having secure and equitable access to and control over natural resources. However, increased pressure on land, forestry and fisheries compounded by weak tenure governance has led to ownership disputes. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry (VGGT) are designed to safeguard tenure rights, ensure equal access to land and protect the rights of every citizen from any kind of discrimination in accessing land and other resources. To redress tenure issues in the country, in 2014, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and FAO began supporting the government of Sierra Leone in the implementation of the voluntary guidelines on land tenure. This partnership has evolved into an inclusive collaboration between state and non-state actors using the voluntary guidelines to develop policies, review laws and strengthen those governance systems to better manage and secure legitimate tenure rights for every farmer in the country.

Two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s population is involved in subsistence agriculture. Farmers – most of them women - operate in an informal and precarious system without any legal titles to their lands.  In the aftermath of the country’s 11 year civil war, the government of Sierra Leone began a long overdue process to modernise its land tenure system and put in place enabling policies so that each parcel of land could be put to its most economically valuable use.

Sierra Leone is no stranger to reforming policies or drafting laws on land tenure. What marked a departure from traditional policy-making was that for the first time in the country’s history, not only did ministers sit with civil society and businesses to discuss cross-cutting issues on tenure governance, but they also used the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry (VGGT) as a guiding force in drafting a new land policy that was fair, easy to implement and accepted by everyone.

“The success in implementing the VGGT comes as a direct result of technical working groups, a steering committee, an inter-ministerial task force and non-state actors such as Non-governmental organizations, Civil Society Organizations, private sector and traditional leaders all working together in a structured institutional framework,” said Jobo Samba, Sierra Leone’s Deputy Director of Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing, Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment.

Inclusive dialogue leads to better work ethic and results

Regular promotion of dialogue between involved stakeholders, resulted in improved policy coherence for better results across ministries as each official brought a set of skills and experience that complemented each other. This inclusive way of working served to translate the new policy on land tenure into activities and programmes. As a result of working together, policy coherence improved as did results across ministries.

“This has been a great experience: our work ethic has improved,” said Kadijatu Zainab Bangura, State Counsellor of the Ministry of Justice. “Rather than just concentrating on our own mandate, we now consult and update each other on a monthly basis and we do the job together.”

The National Land Policy and the Fisheries Strategies of Sierra Leone  were adopted in 2015, incorporating VGGT principles, such as recognizing, respecting and safeguarding all legitimate tenure holders and their rights and preventing tenure disputes, conflict and corruption, among others.

The government recognized FAO’s technical support as key to establishing an institutional framework that promoted dialogue among all involved actors.

“The intervention of FAO in bringing about conflict resolution in this whole process was extremely useful,” explained Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of Green Scenery, an organization that advocates the rights of communities and land ownership.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone, Finda Diana Konomanyi, Minister of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment said, “FAO has been instrumental in providing technical support during the formulation process in the development of the plan as well as mobilizing donor support.”

The female face of farming

Women represent 70 percent of the agricultural labour force of Sierra Leone, holding an important role in natural resource management and food production. Despite their contribution, however, women are often discriminated against and denied ownership, access to or control of land. In addition, discriminatory, customary and statutory laws that favour men hinder the economic impact of women’s agricultural activities.

Now, thanks to new land tenure policies, farmers - male and female – have hopes to build a brighter future without fearing eviction from their land.

“It is important that women participate as equal decision-making partners in the equity and distribution of land and that they are not subordinated to lesser roles,” explained Julia Fofanah, Country Manager of Conservation Alliance Sierra Leone, a non-governmental environmental organization.

Success on the ground

A number of districts in Sierra Leone are now adopting the VGGT, proving their effectiveness to bring about positive and lasting change. The District Councils of Kailahun and Bo have integrated them into their 2016-18 Development Plans.

“Learning about the VGGT has been important because I can, not only train myself but also the people in my community, so that they too can reap the benefits,” said Mohamed Fofaneh, Town Chief Port Loko District.

The participating districts are committed to increasing awareness about the VGGT and to using them in developing guidelines for agricultural investments.

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