Worreh Yeama people say no to Addax Bioenergy
The people of Worreh Yeama village, a small traditional community located in the Makarie Gbanti Chiefdom, Bombali District, northern Sierra Leone, have resisted moves by Addax Bioenergy to take over their boli land, which they say is the only land left for their own agricultural needs.
On Friday 2nd March 2013, officials of Addax Bioenergy Limited, a Swiss-based company that has acquired a total of 57,000 hectares of arable land for an initial period of 50 years in Bombali and Tonkolili Districts for the establishment of massive sugar cane plantations to produce ethanol for the European market, went to install pegs on a large stretch of boli land without reference to the owners of the land and in contrast with a provision in the lease agreement signed with the community that the company shall only concentrate on the upland.
The move by Addax angered the entire community, as the inhabitants quickly mobilized and uprooted all the pegs installed by the company and kept them (the pegs) in their custody for what they say is for exhibit sake.
In an interview with community elders during a recent field trip to the area, they stated categorically that the company has betrayed their confidence by not fulfilling the least of the promises made to them before agreeing to give up their upland and that the attempt by the company to jump over to their boli land was a way to worsen the current hunger situation its operations have plunged them into.
According to them, the Farmers Development Program (FDP), which was initiated by the company to enhance food self-sufficiency in the communities affected by the ethanol project, is not working well for them. They maintained that the FDP has failed to address the underlining issue of food security in their community, and they are suffering unprecedented levels of hunger as a result. They referred to it as a big disappointment.
They dismissed as a mere waste of time the Farmer Field and Life School supported by Addax to compliment the FDP, noting that farmers are subjected to 30 weeks of one-day training and upon graduation given no start-up kits or relevant backup to enable them put into practice their new skills in generating greater yields as the training demands.
They expressed dissatisfaction over the lease amount being paid for their land, pointing out that rather than bringing about prosperity for land owners, it is dividing families.
They are also aggrieved over the one-off payment for their economic crops such as mango, orange and coconut trees, and feel cheated because they say the company did not negotiate with them on issues of cost.
Lack of an effective grievance mechanism is also one of the things bothering the people. The only grievance mechanism currently in place is administered and controlled by Addax. The question posed by the people is, “How can you report a serious matter to the very person that offended you and expect to be taken seriously?”
The people are very angry that their Member of Parliament Honourable Martin Bangura who introduced the company to them and His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who did the formal launching of the operations of the company, have abandoned them to their fate.
According to the Worreh Yeama Town Headman, Pa Alie Koroma, he had the shock of his life when three months ago he had to opportunity of engaging the Hon. Martin Bangura on the problems confronting them. He said the response the parliamentarian gave him was that the company is no longer listening to him as before and that he too is unhappy with the company but has nothing to do since it is the president’s interest. Because of this, Chief Pa Alie Koroma who actually gave orders to his subjects to remove the aforementioned pegs, said they have lost confidence in the government insofar as the protection of their rights is concerned. “We are now taking the bull by the horn and we shall resist all attempts by the company to take over our boli”, he said in a rather determined tone.
Crowning the grievances of the people against the company is its denial of promises made to them. According to the people, the company made fabulous promises to them during the project introduction phase. Some of the promises included the construction of roads, community centre, market, schools, health centre, awarding of scholarship to deserving pupils within the community, awarding of jobs to youth within the community and ensuring that food never runs short in the community. These promises, they maintained, were the reason why they accepted to let go their lands.
They now seem to be in deep regret, with their fingers of blame pointed directly at Hon. Martin Bangura and President Ernest Bai Koroma for according to them, bringing calamity upon them.
They called for the immediate review of the existing agreement with the company, arguing that Lawyer Franklyn Kargbo, now Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who represented them during the contract signing was forced upon them and therefore did not represent them fairly.
It was amidst this growing frustration among the people that the company went to take over the only boli land they now depend on for their livelihood, and they feel very strongly that the company has violated their right to food.
Meanwhile, the company has denied attempting to take over the boli land in question, maintaining that they were merely undertaking a survey to determine the amount of land in the area.
In another development, Addax Bioenergy has been forced by the people of Masethleh in the Tonkolili District to enter into a new lease agreement for the use of the land. The previous agreement signed between the company and the chiefdom administration was rejected by the people who insisted that the said agreement did not meet their expectations.
Friday 8th February 2013 marked the signing of the new agreement between the company and the Masethleh people, and it is expected that other communities will take the queue.
By Theophilus S. Gbenda & Fatima Sesay