The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has engaged stakeholders on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land Tenure (VGGT), fisheries and forests in the context of national food security and the national land policy in Mongo Bendugu, Falaba District, and Kamakwie in Karene District, all in Sierra Leone.
The two-day stakeholders’ sensitization meeting which was held on Wednesday 22nd and Friday 24th August 2018, was attended by representatives of paramount chiefs, the Office of National Security, youths, women and religious leaders, Local Councils, Mammy Queens, District Officers, Chief Administrators and civil society organizations, all of whom pledged to sensitize others about the VGGT and the national land policy.
In his welcoming address, the Regent Paramount Chief of Mongo Bendugu, Falaba District, Sheku Jawara, underscored the importance of the meeting, adding that their survival depends on land. He said that land is a top priority, and he appealed to the FAO to support farmers in his district.
In his presentation on the role of Local Councils, Paramount Chiefs and other Local Authorities in the implementation of the VGGT and the national land policy in Sierra Leone, the Senior District Officer of Falaba, Mr. Haroun Keh Turay, disclosed that there are two different land policies in the country: one for the Western Area, where citizens can buy, sell and own land, while in the provinces, land is communal and family-owned, and that it cannot be sold.
He added that the Ministry of Local Government has more lands than the Ministry of Lands, stating that the former Minister of Local Government was the Chairman of the Land Policy Committee. He further said that when it comes to land disputes, the town chiefs are the first port of call, followed by paramount chiefs and magistrates. He however advised for paramount chiefs to be inclusive, transparent and accountable in land issues. He also informed his audience that some functions are yet to be devolved to the Local Councils.
Mr. Turay stated that Sierra Leone is a case study for the implementation of the VGGT. He said they have recently formed the Regional Land Committees, whilst plans are underway to set up District, Chiefdom and Village Land Committees.
He commended the District for donating land to government for development purposes, but stressed that women now have right to land. He urged all to do away with bad customs and traditions, and underlined that the new land policy would protect investors, and prevent land conflicts. He also appealed for the VGGT and the new land policy documents to be distributed to stakeholders.
Mrs. Martha Davies, Project Manager for the VGGT, highlighted the objectives of the workshops, which, among them is to raise awareness about the governance of tenure, and the prevention of conflicts. She further said that land can be used for agriculture, forestry and other sources of income, as well as for burials. She reiterated that paramount chiefs are custodians of lands, and observed that most conflicts are related to land. She concluded by saying that Sierra Leone is a signatory to the VGGT.
Mrs. Davies continued that the VGGT would help Paramount Chiefs to rule justly, that with the exception of the new Districts of Falaba and Kenene, the others have been sensitized about the VGGT and the new National Land Policy that all stakeholders and citizens must be aware of as they would help communities to live in peace and harmony.
On behalf of the FAO Representative in Sierra Leone, Mrs. Josephine Koroma said that FAO said that VGGT was approved at the World Food Security Meeting in May 2012, adding that Sierra Leone signed the agreement in April 2014 and setup a Multi-Stakeholders’ Committee.
Highlighting the advantages of VGGT, she said that it will restore human dignity, zero discrimination, inclusion of the physically challenged, equity and justice, is holistic, and promotes responsible governance. She said that the multi-Stakeholders’ platform on the VGGT will be held in September this year.
In his presentation on the implementation of the National Land Policy: The Current Status, Mr. Rashid Charles Ngiawee, Staff Supervisor/Head of Land Reform Program in the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment reiterated that land is a serious issue full of challenges and affects all. He disclosed that the new Land Policy is one of the best in the world as it conforms to the VGGT.
He said that the 2017-2027 National Land Policy Implementation Plan has institutional framework programs including the Reform Unit, the National Land Policy Steering Committee, Regional Land Oversight Committees and disclosed that the Ministry is working with the World Bank to implement land administration.
The Chairman of the Karene District Council, Mr. John Ditto Kamara said that all the issues raised at the meeting are very important to the development of the district and called for a Licensed Surveyor to plan the district.
Mr. Abass Kamara, a civil society activist commended the VGGT and Land Policy as exemplary in complementing the efforts of government intimating the 2003 Maputo Protocol calls on African Governments to spend 10% of their national budgets on agriculture.
Mr. Kamara also stated that 97 references were made from the VGGT to formulate the Land Policy, adding that the world has rated Sierra Leone high for implementation of the VGGT followed by Senegal and Mexico.