The 50 participants included the Paramount Chiefs of Selenga and Kandu Lepiamma Chiefdoms in Bo and Kenema Districts, Desmond Kangobai and Theresa Vibbi respectively, Provincial Secretaries, District Officers, Local Councils, land right groups among them the Network Movement for Justice and Development and NAMATI, the media and Civil Society Organizations.
The FAO Representative in Sierra Leone, Dr. Nyabenyi Tipo observed that she enjoyed the frank discussions among participants, underscored that the validation of the report is very important and critical as the recommendations would be incorporated into the land policy.
Earlier in his welcome address, Dr. Samuel Mabikke, FAO’s Head of Land and Natural Resources, revealed that the validation meeting is a very important opportunity to discuss the land policy and appealed to participants to make salient inputs into the document before it is presented to FAO.
Joseph Brima, the Deputy FAO Deputy Representative In Charge of programs revealed that his organization is very pleased to assemble participants to validate the important document vital for women’s land issues that is at the heart of FAO. He furthered that a large number of women are involved in agriculture but lamented that they do not have access to land which are some of the challenges confronting women over the years, that there are two types of land policies in the country-one for the Western Area where one can buy and own land and another for the provinces where it is communal and cannot be sold. He asserted that the forest is rich in resources and affirmed that the findings in the report would help the country to better administer land in the provinces but called for the support of all stakeholders.
Joseph Brima continued that women are very committed and conscious of agriculture, that the FAO has supported four women’s agricultural cooperatives that performed well and reiterated that the Land Policy would help the entire country especially since the voices of Paramount Chiefs and other major stakeholders would be heard and incorporated into the document, underscored that FAO is committed to the process of land administration and assured that the Irish Aid and the German Government would support FAO to sanitize land administration.
The chair of the workshop, Rexford Ahemi intimated that the livelihood of human beings depends on agriculture, revealed that the Irish Embassy strongly supports the Government of Sierra Leone to commission the study, that the inequalities to access land need to change, that Sierra Leone is a male-dominated society where men control land, assets and other issues as the tradition and norms of the country dictates and reiterated the need to re-examine the cultural norms, manage and control them for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.
According to Ahemi, Sierra Leoneans must ensure the best value for land, warned that if there is conflict the land cannot be effectively utilized, called for the policy to be reviewed to make it better pointing out that the customary land tenure system is changing, that the desire to sell land in the provinces is driven by the economy, the demand for agriculture, new settlements and other development projects but that the situation is unfair to women. He also affirmed that the people must hold their chiefs accountable, that women’s land rights are part of the evolution taking place in the country concluding that the Ministry of lands has a lot of work to do and promised that the report would be shared with the public.
The Irish Aid Governance Advisor and Officer in Charge of the Land Policy Project, Joseph Ellie, disclosed that his organization is proud to support FAO to conduct the study, that some of the Sustainable Development Goals are to end hunger, improve access to land, especially for women, boost agricultural productivity, that women produce 60% of the food in Sierra Leone but that they are unable to access land.
The report, that Local Authorities are custodians of the land on behalf of the landowners which makes the law vulnerable, that a lot of widows have been asked to vacate their lands, that women can own land in most of the places visited during their research due to incessant sensitization by land right organizations, that 7,000 questionnaires were administered and analyzed and assured that the findings of the report are very comprehensive.
According to Sheku Sei, it is a worrisome development that lots of lands are being sold in the outskirts of cities like Makeni, Bo and Kenema due to security of tenure, observed that there is hope in the land tenure system, warned landowners not to sell land above an acre but lease and acclaimed some community banks that are helping people with loans to embark on farming using their lands as collaterals underlining that registration of lands would benefit owners.