During the Agriculture Sector Review process, it was found that the traditional landowners in the Provinces indicated a willingness to accept the leasehold interest as a basis of alienating land to investors while at the same time securing the interests of unborn generations. However, they found difficulty with the duration of the leaseholds. Some of the traditional landowners preferred shorter leasehold periods of up to 25 years while others accepted that the duration should be long enough to enable the investor to recoup their investment.71 A minimum fifty-year duration would certainly be adequate since it would give sufficient time for investors to realise their investments in perennial crops. It is necessary, however, that adequate safeguards are built into the system to secure the interests of both the lessor and the lessee. The following clauses, among others, could be considered for insertion into the leasehold agreements:
renewal of the lease for appropriate periods;
adequate rents (either ground rents or economic rents)
a specific period of the lease beyond which, if the land is not put to the required use, the lessor may re-enter and resume possession of the land;
lessees would not be able to assign, sublet, mortgage or otherwise part with possession of the land without the consent, in writing, of the lessors,72 such consent not to be unreasonably withheld.
Other issues that would require further examination in the case of leasehold interests include the nature of the legal relationships that should be created. For example, should ground rents be charged, such that at the end of the lease, the land and all its fixtures would revert to the landlord? Or should economic rents be charged with the result that at the end of the lease either the leaseholder removes all fixtures on the land or the landlord pays them for such fixtures if they so desire? The latter was the relationship envisaged under Section 11 of the Protectorate Land Ordinance, 1927 (Cap 122).
One of the easiest ways to open up agricultural land to more commercial investment would be to consider promoting joint ventures in agricultural development. The Investment Promotion Act 2004 permits 100 per cent foreign ownership of companies. Yet at the same time, in a contradictory measure, foreigners cannot buy land in the Western Area, and the land tenure system in the Provinces is an uncertain minefield in terms of investment. This undermines a fundamental goal of the GoSL: to promote private sector investment in the country.
For many foreign or Diaspora businesses seeking to establish business in Sierra Leone, a joint venture with a local company would be the most feasible way to establish. Such companies would want to invest in some sort of fixed assets, such as land or buildings. A rationale for a Sierra Leonean partner to enter into such joint ventures would be to obtain capital for further investment in the business or farm. Making the land fungible (i.e. an asset convertible to cash), in the ways suggested above, would enable the land to be put up by the Sierra Leonean partner/farmer as a contribution to the joint venture. This land component of the joint venture could be extremely valuable, enabling a major stake in the joint venture company for the Sierra Leone partner (farmer).
Key Issues and Policy Options for Access to Land for Agriculture
Issues: The uncertainties inherent in the land tenure system militate against the productive use of land, particularly for agricultural use. Titles to land in Sierra Leone represented through conveyances, are uncertain, and require proper registration. Farmers and other landholders in the Provinces are unable to use their land for collateral thus their access to credit and finance is limited. Security of investments in land for agricultural use also requires improvement.
Establish central G.P.S based mapping of not only the Freetown Peninsula area but also the Provinces, including Crown land and Government reservations, in order to determine the status of the available land for cultivation and development. This will enable centralised planning which will ensure the smooth introduction of utility lines, access roads, pipes, drainage etc to assist in the transformation of idle land into structured economic assets.
Immediately establish an additional system of property interests in land in Sierra Leone known as leasehold, and give it legal status through enactment of legislation.
Repeal the law prohibiting ownership of land in Sierra Leone by foreigners subject to a residual oversight by government where large tracts of land are being bought by non-Sierra Leoneans.
Once the State Lands have been mapped, establish a system of user rights over this type of land. Establish a registration system for user rights which enables them to be tracked and monitored.
Establish land regulations with clear rights and responsibilities of communities and traditional leaders regarding their role in the process or land acquisition, including zoning, community preservation areas for watersheds, spiritual or ecologically sensitive areas.
Immediately implement a system of ‘Title Registration’ based on the GPS mapping for freehold and leasehold title to property in Sierra Leone. Once a landowner’s title is duly registered, s/he would be conclusively regarded as the true owner of the property interest.
Establish a mechanism, such as a Lands Tribunal or Lands Arbitration Board that will adjudicate initially the claims of competing land ownership and enforce land agreements/contracts, subject to a right of appeal to the courts.