Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd Oil Palm Plantation in Malen Chiefdom, Pujeun District, Sierra Leone

Description
In March 2011 Socfin SL obtained a lease of 50 years for 6500 ha of fertile land in Malen chiefdom, Pujehun district, south Sierra Leone. The company, a member of the massive French group Bolloré, intended to develop the land for oil palm and rubber plantations. The project promised local populations full compensation for lost land, development investments, and jobs. Yet eight short months after signing local leadership presented local authorities with a long list of grievances against the company, including lack of proper consultation, lack of transparency, and lack of compensation for land loss, as well as corruption, appalling working conditions, and pressure and intimidation to sign lease agreements. The Oakland Institute and local NGOs documented human rights violations and found the lease to be inconsistent with national laws and regulations. In early October over 100 dispossessed landowners staged a protest against the company, which resulted in 40 arrests and prolonged trials of those involved. Another protest over delayed paychecks on the 7th of December, 2011, was resolved by fining those protesting. An EIA was conducted, but due to lack of preexisting data the specific impacts of the project will be unclear. According to an Oakland Institute report: there will be no restriction on the volume of water extracted by SAC [Socfin] from rivers, other watercourses, wells and boreholes, and local citizens already complain of health impacts from working with fertilizers in the nursery. The lease in Malen chiefdom has the potential for an additional 21 year extension and an additional 5,000 ha. According to a Green Scenery report from May 2011, the company has signed an MoU for additional lands in the Bonthe District and is in consultation for more lands in the Bo District, which would bring its total landbank in the country to 12,000 ha. In 2013 SOCFIN sued Sierra Leone Green Scenery for reporting on the activities of the company, filing a defamation suit (SLAPP suit) against the NGO and its Executive Director, Joseph Rahall.

Basic Data
NameSocfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd Oil Palm Plantation in Malen Chiefdom, Pujeun District, Sierra Leone
CountrySierra Leone
ProvincePujehun district
SiteMalen chiefdom
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Deforestation
Specific CommoditiesPalm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsSocfin promised local investment of 19 million for hospitals, roads, schools, and housing, and the creation of 10000 jobs. Currently 1000 are employed in the nursery and the company claims it has only prepared 3600 ha of land for planting.

Project Area (in hectares)12,000
Level of Investment (in USD)112,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population9000
Company Names or State EnterprisesSocfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd
Société Financière des Caoutchoucs
Bolloré Investissement SA
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security of Sierra Leone
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersOakland Institute, http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/, Green Scenery, Freetown, Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF), Northern Region, Malen Affected Landowners’ Association (MALOA), Pujehun District, Affected Land Users’ Associations (AFLUAs), Tonkolili and Bombali Districts, Partners Initiative for Conflict Transformation (PICOT), Bo and Bonthe Districts, Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR), Bombali District, Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Rural Agency for Community Action Programme (RACAP-SL), bIOSALONE, Centre for Coalition of Human Rights Activists (CCHRA), Tonkolili District, Community Empowerment for Poverty Alleviation (CEPA-SL), Kailahun District, Sierra Leone Adult Education Association (SLADEA), United for the Protection of Human Rights (UPHR), Port Loko District
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Women
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesA report by Actionaid recommends: a binding regulatory framework (based on international guidelines for responsible agricultural investment) for foreign investment in farmland that emphasises protection of local people and the environment, limiting leases to 1,000-2,000 ha, and binding compensation for all crops, trees and important resources based on the real value of each over its productive life span. Until such recommendations are applied, the report calls for an immediate moratorium on large-scale investment in farmland in Sierra Leone.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project continues, and SOCFIN initiated a defamation suit that is currently underway, targeting local NGOs.
Sources and Materials
References

Oakland Institute, 2012, 'Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: SOCFIN land investment in Sierra Leone'
[click to view]

Green Scenery, 'Publications: Factsheet on Large-Scale Agri-Investments in Pujehun District, Sierra Leone, Green Scenery, Freetown, April 2013 and Increasing Pressure for Land: Implications for Rural Livelihoods and Development Actors. A Case Study in Si
[click to view]

Action aid report
[click to view]

Links

, 'End intimidation around Sierra Leone oil palm Project'
[click to view]

Reuters, 'Sierra Leone arrests 39 in oil palm land lease dispute'
[click to view]

The Guardian, 'Sierra Leone: Local resistance grows as investors snap up land'
[click to view]

Bollore Group, 'Portfolio of Shareholdings'
[click to view]

Socfin, 'Sierra Leone – Analysis of the Oakland Institute Report'
[click to view]

[click to view]

Media Links

Oakland Institute, 2012
[click to view]

Other CommentsOakland Institute: 'The Bolloré Group is now present in 92 countries all over the world, including 43 countries in Africa alone. It controls plantations, industries and services, including shipping, transport infrastructures, oil production as well as African ports (13 as of 2012). Similar practices of land grabs by Socfin subsidiaries and investment malpractices have been reported in recent years in Liberia, Cameroon, and Cambodia.'

In a rebuttal statement to OI's report it explicitly states it is not controlled by Bollore Group. According to Bollore Group's website, accessed October 2nd, 2013, Bollore Group owns 38.7% of Socfin Group.

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ContributorAliza Tuttle
Last update24/06/2014
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