Rural land reform is central to reducing poverty and migration to cities

By Abdul Rashid Thomas

Millions of peasant farmers in the rural areas of Sierra Leone do not own land of their own but have to rent from land owning families. Added to their poverty is the fact that they depend on Shylock money lenders to secure seeds and capital for their farming activities.

At the end of the day, their harvests are not only meagre but most it goes to paying debt and interest that are trapping them in a vicious circle of poverty, which when looked at closely are responsible for the majority of youths abandoning the countryside for life in the city.

The Government must take a lead role in both land redistribution and capitalization of small farmers who continue to be the major food producers for the survival of the entire population.

Land is arguably critical, becoming increasingly recognized as an important governance issue. It is the single greatest asset in Sierra Leone.

Many people, including the bulk of the rural farmers, require land and related resources such as forests and water for the production of food and to sustain basic livelihoods.

Clearly, land provides for housing, towns and villages and expansion of cities, and is a basic factor in economic production, as well as a basis for securing social, cultural and religious values and practices. This is at the centre of the long drawn out dispute between the people of Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun district and SOCFIN.

Access to land and other natural resources and associated security of tenure have significant implication for overall rural development. However, a number of long standing challenges remain in so far as improving secure access to land, other natural resources for the rural and urban poor are concerned.

Although ancestral rights to land and other natural resources are a cornerstone of the livelihoods of rural people, the legal recognition and safeguarding of such rights has been uneven.

And despite women being the principal farmers and producers in the country, significant gender inequities continue to exist with regard to use of land and control over land and other natural resources.

To remedy the situation for the vast majority of rural dwellers that now stand greatly disadvantaged, government must have a vision to intervene. Despite having many excellent land policies, laws and technical reforms, yet in many cases, implementation has slipped, stalled or even been reversed.

An understanding of land issues and reform process from a governance and political economy perspective, offers insights that can not only improve the design of reforms, but can also support implementation.

Weak land governance, as found in formal statutory land administration as well as in informal and customary tenure arrangements, has adverse consequences for society.

The poor are particularly vulnerable to the effects of weak governance as they lack the ability to protect their rights to land and other natural resources.

In many parts of Sierra Leone weak governance promotes gender inequality, as poor women are less able to secure their rights. It fosters social inequality with potentially destabilizing consequences as the rich are able to benefit from opportunities to acquire land and the poor lose their rights to land and other common property resources such as grazing lands and forests.

Given the extensive damage done to land in the large scale mining districts of Moyamba, Bo, Kenema, Port Loko, Tonkolili and Kono, weak governance leads to environmental degradation as corrupt public officials and private interests collude to ignore controls on land use, the extraction of water and minerals and the clearing of forests.

Good governance of tenure can ensure that rights in land and natural resource are recognized and protected. By doing so, it helps to reduce hunger and poverty, promotes social and economic development and contributes to sustainable urbanization.

Secure access to land and other natural resources is a direct factor in the alleviation of hunger and poverty. As such, good land governance, management and redistribution can contribute to the achievement of a variety of development objectives, including the unfulfilled abandoned Millennium Development Goals 1 – Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

Source: Land Portal

Related to SDG 10: Reduced inequalities and SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities

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