Elusive Investors keep buying and selling – People remain and suffer

Photo: Bread for All
Bread for All | 19.11.2020

Elusive Investors keep buying and selling – People remain and suffer

by Joseph Saffa

In January 2009, the President of Sierra Leone launched an ambitious 4 hundred million Euros project in one of the most deprived villages in Sierra Leone. He referred to the project as his baby, a demonstration of his government’s ability to attract economic investors. The project was touted to be the biggest agricultural project ever in the country.

Addax Bioenergy Sierra Leone (ABSL), a Swiss based subsidiary of the Addax and Oryx group (AOG), initiated the Sierra Leone Project in 2008. The company acquired 10.000 ha from landowners in the Makeni region to develop a greenfield integrated agricultural and renewable energy project to produce fuel ethanol to export to EU and electricity to be sold to local market in Sierra Leone.  The project was partially financed by the AOG and funded by seven European and African development financial institutions (DFI’s).

When the project started civil society organisations raised serious concerns over land grabbing[i], leading to food insecurity for the communities; faulted negotiation processes that mounted immense pressure on landowners and land users to give up their lands without their free prior and informed consent. Vulnerable poor communities were convinced that giving up their lands to this new investor will take them out of poverty; a lofty promise they still await.

Sooner it became known to communities that this new savior is a heart breaker. ABSL scaled down its operations in Makeni in 2015, citing several challenges, and sold 75.1% of its stake to a new owner Sunbird Bioenergy.[ii] The DFIs pulled out, got their cash back and showed no concern for communities;[iii] mitigation measures that were meant to guarantee food security failed and caused negative impacts on local communities.  Sunbird resumed operations in 2018 but also sold a majority of its shares to another investor called the Brown Investment Plc.  

Fast forward 2020 and while all these exchanges and buying of the company are taking place by these investors, the land owners and users remain steadfast in the ground and have to face the reality that they have been dispossessed of their land. The struggles continue for these communities, their situation getting worst[iv]: massive jobs lost due to the corona virus; no more land available for farming; fires are destroying the little farm lands left; communities get less communication with the company; and food insecurity worsens. In the midst of all these problems women are negatively impacted. As caregivers, women are left to cater for food and other basic necessities for their children and the family.

Certainly, this large-scale land investment has shown that it is not a sustainable option for the communities. Investors keep buying the company while people remain in the land, their life even worst off. There is an urgent need to invest in alternative farming methods for the communities. The land is their most valuable resource, and farming is already their way of life, such investment is crucial to a sustainable livelihood.

► Read the new monitoring report: The owners change, grievances remain (Monitoring report: Sunbird Bioenergy Mabilafu Project (formerly Addax)), Bread for all & SiLNoRF, 11/2020

[i] Country Report: Sierra Leone – Oakland Institute

[ii] Monitoring Report on the operations and the scale down of Addax Bioenergy in Makeni, Sierra Leone (period July 2014 – June 2016), Bread for all & SiLNoRF.

[iii] The Weakest Should not Bear the Risk (Report), Bread for all & Bread for the World, 09/2016.

[iv] Monitoring Report on the operations of Addax/Sunbird Bioenergy Mabilafu Project, Sierra Leone (Period July 2016 – August 2017), Bread for all & SiLNoRF.

Photo: Bread for All
Joseph Saffa is a Right to Food and Land Rights Expert in Sierra Leone, Former Research and Monitoring Officer for SiLNoRF. He is the main author of the Monitoring report «The owners change, grievances remain» published by SiLNoRF and Bread for all

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