The Assistant Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Sierra Leone in Charge of Programs, Mr. Harding Wuyango on Wednesday 13th January 2021 revealed at the Golden Tulip Kimbima Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown that  FAO, in collaboration with the government of Sierra Leone, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), farmers and other stakeholders, is implementing an integrated food security program in Sierra Leone focusing on diversification of livelihood, managing natural resources and building resilience for women and youths.

The 35 participants were drawn from Civil Society Organizations, Government, INGOs, NGOs and other relevant key stakeholders. 

He enlightened that FAO and the other stakeholders’ supports plans, policies affecting the food and nutrition security in the country as part of its work and corporate commitment to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, especially SDG 2 on Zero Hunger and informed that FAO recruited a Consultant to undertake Socio-Economic Assessment of the Impacts of COVID-19 on Land Tenure, Agric-business Investment and Youths in Sierra Leone underscoring that the Assessment aims to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the containment measures of the following:

Land tenure rights especially for the vulnerable poor (women and youths), land based investments/private agribusiness investors, including those from young agri-entrepreneurs/youth cooperatives and youth Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), land/natural resource conflicts, Land Administration/Management Institutions e.g. MDAs, District and Local Governance, Government and finally housing, land and property rights.

According to Mr. Harding Wuyango, since 2014, FAO has been supporting the government of Sierra Leone in the formulation and implementation of its National Land Policy (NLP) which recognizes different forms of tenure rights and called for a new land law to implement the policy and ensure gender equality stressing that additionally, Sierra Leone is committed to the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure (VGGT) and international human rights laws adding that in this context, FAO is particularly concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 on land tenure.

The Assistant FAO Country Representative continued that the COVID-19 pandemic and its response are an impediment to physical organizing and human rights defence around the world – including abuses of communities’ land rights, environmental degradation and corrupt practices that involve land-based investments pointing out that considering that the majority of rural populations live under insecure forms of tenure, whose land rights are already vulnerable to land grabs and other forms of dispossession, measures must be put in place so  that no further displacements of rural dwellers take place that would affect their livelihoods in the pretext  of COVID-19 lock-downs.

He went on to state that at the same time and in synergies with the VGGT implementation activities, FAO is supporting Sierra Leone in enhancing responsible investments in agriculture and food systems through a series of projects focusing on the enabling environment, inclusive business models and investments by and with young agri-entrepreneurs and that in this context, FAO is particularly concerned about the potential socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 containment measures on youths in rural and urban areas and particularly young agri-entrepreneurs.

Mr. Harding Wuyango further revealed that ILO estimates that young women and men would be mainly affected by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic because they are more vulnerable to economic shocks and work more often in the informal economy and went on to observe that young agric-entrepreneurs and youth cooperatives would also suffer from the associated economic recession which would further constrain their capacities to find resources and financing and access markets in particular because they lack the know-how to cope with difficult business conditions.

Mr. Jombo Samba, Head of the VGGT Secretariat in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning  expressed immense thanks and appreciation to partners, especially FAO,for supporting the Ministry to undertake and implement land reforms and FAO for putting the study together.

He also encouraged participants to contribute to the findings from which they would also learn and put the land reform agenda forward reiterating that participants must learn and mainstream the findings in their various Ministries and other sectors.

Dr. Isata Mahoi of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) commended FAO for supporting the government of Sierra Leone to improve the land tenure system in the country disclosing that many communities now understand land issues, that government has made tremendous efforts to sanitize the land tenure system, that Sierra Leone has been identified globally for implementing the VGGT, that land issues are now topical in the country and that most of the conflicts in the country are related to land.

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She also articulated that some communities have formulated bye-laws on how to utilize land while Local Champions are on the ground sensitizing people how to properly use land but emphasized that they want to scale-up the process concluding that some families now know the size of their lands in addition to understanding how to mediate and advocate on land issues.

In his PowerPoint presentation, the consultant, Mr. Prince Kamara underscored that the findings would not be the end as the COVID-19 is still around, that the findings are not new, that he used a structured questionnaire, random selection of households, checklists to collect qualitative data and use of the Krio and the local languages of the various communities.

He continued that he interviewed the Ministries of Lands,  Agriculture and companies that have acquired large acres of lands like Miro, NGOs in the land sector and the people, majority of whom responded that they are aware of COVID-19 and they believe the pandemic is real..

Mr. Kamara also revealed that 59% of the people responded that they heard about the pandemic in the local media while 29% said they heard about the pandemic from locals around them like chiefs and went on to state that all the respondents said that they panicked on hearing about the outbreak of the pandemic and are abiding by all the preventive measures.

The consultant went on to disclose that some of sources of income of those interviewed before COVID-19 replied that 93%  were involved in agriculture, others petty trading, riding of commercial motorbikes and causal workers and that there is a decrease in their income after COVID-19 with 80% of the farmers stating that they could not produce like before COVID-19.

The consultant further disclosed, “some of the interviewees have cut down on expenses, sold property like land, sent some relatives back home, lost their jobs while 95% said they have not received any help from government or anybody/institution. In most pandemics around the world, women are the most affected-these include broken marriages, increase in single female parents, women deprived of land, increased teenage pregnancy, school dropout for girls, increased prostitution, increased food insecurity for households and migration to rural areas. 32% of women said they received some kind of benefits from government.”

On how people acquire land, the respondents said through inheritance, can be collectively owned, can be bought,mortgaged/leased affirming that land disputes in the country have decreased by 50%, that there is now regular payment of land lease fees, fair settlement of land disputes and that there is huge loss in revenue for agricultural companies, shortage of supplies and difficulty to export products.

Francesca Romano FAO Land Tenure Officer in Rome, also made salient contributions online and wished all a successful meeting.

Earlier, Mr. Ibrahim Bangura National Coordinator of VGGT at FAO  highlighted the objectives of the validation workshop which he underscored is of high interest to FAO, and urged all to participate fully due to its importance informing that FAO has mapped huge acres of lands in Port Loko, Bombali, Bo and Kenema Districts all aimed at mitigating conflicts.

Mr. Gbassay Momoh of FAO moderated the discussion, questions and answers session while the vote of thanks was rendered by Mr. Joseph Rahall of Green Scenery.

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