Nghtwatch Newspaper (Sierra Leone) | 7 November 2023
‘SOCFIN Grabs 349 Hectares of Land’ -Parliamentarians
by Emmanuel Christian Thorli
A palm Oil producing company in Sierra Leone, Socfin has been accused of a land grab of up to 349 hectares belonging to the people of Pujehun in Southern Sierra Leone.
The grab has left hundreds of locals in abject poverty as no meaningful farming and other agricultural activities take place.
For years farming has been the main economic activity in the community, but it stopped after much of the land was taken away by an agreement which was criticised.
Instead of farming, Socfin is specialised in the production of palm oil at the expense of food security which is now government’s flagship project.
The oil company is located in the impoverished Sahn Malen town in Pujehun district where it has been operating over 10 years.
Frustrations and outcries by the locals about their land have fallen in deaf ears, and stakeholders who attempted to champion the struggle have been arrested and detained.
Honourable Shaka Samai who was representing one of the constituencies in Pujehun was a victim of constant arrest and incarceration for bringing the company’s subtle land grabbing tactics to light.
Yesterday, the burning issue came up in Parliament, and was never a dull moment for the law makers who hit hard on the Socfin issue in the presence of the General Manager, Philip Toms.
Chairman of Agriculture and Food Security Committee in Parliament, Hon Ibrahim Tawa Conteh informed colleague parliamentarians that Socfin’s contract had elapsed, but still tilled the land at the expense of the state and local community.
“Use of the land is illegal,” he told law makers in a apparent move to take appropriate action against the company.
Honourable Conteh made the allegation last Monday during hearing of the Committee Room One in Parliament.
Apart from the expiration of the agreement, he went on, the company had also flouted the agreement.
The Committee told Socfin General Manager that his company had refused to give farmers out-goers scheme which was part of the agreement.
Hon Conteh maintained that Socfin Company has flouted the agreement in all fronts, and that the company is currently operating as a limited liability company without concession agreement.
He therefore demanded documents from the manager so that parliament could know what was in the agreement between Socfin and the government.
The law makers also picked up violations of the agreement which they wanted the company to look into.
Honourable Conteh however commended Socfin for the economic respite to the locals and citizens of Sierra Leone.
Addressing parliamentarians on behalf of his institution, Philip Toms admitted loopholes in the implementation of the agreement.
He also accepted that the agreement had expired but would work with the Agriculture Ministry for renewal. “The Company will work in collaboration with the landowners and government to implement another agreement which will benefit the people of Sierra Leone,”
Toms however disagreed with parliamentarians that the land was grabbed as feeder roads and investment areas indicated.
The Company, Toms said, had provided jobs for locals and broadened government’s revenue base despite the global economic meltdown.