Scaling community land protection in the face of large-land investments in Sierra Leone
Like many West African countries, Sierra Leone has identified large-scale land investments as a key pathway for economic growth. However, large land concessions risk dispossessing rural communities and depriving them of access to natural resources vital to their livelihoods. Even when welcomed by communities, investments may lead to environmental degradation, human rights violations, and inequity. Communities have few avenues to seek redress when investments result in social and environmental harm.
This action research project is implemented by Namati, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based foundation specializing in supporting community land protection initiatives. The project will test approaches to scaling up community land protection efforts and strengthening community capacity to engage with investors on more equitable terms. The project will employ community paralegals to support communities in Sierra Leone at key moments in the interaction between communities and investors.
A mix of research methods will examine the institutional and policy barriers to securing tenure, how land registration processes and community-level rules can protect women and minorities against exclusion, strategies to address power imbalances in negotiations between communities and investors, and how citizens’ legal empowerment can foster state accountability for ensuring compliance with the social and environmental terms set prior to investment. As rising competition over land can increase the vulnerability of women’s rights to land, the project includes a specific focus on protections for women and vulnerable populations. It will also develop and test approaches to enhancing their participation in decision-making over communal land and during negotiations with investors.
Findings are expected to strengthen community land rights and governance and to contribute to national land reforms and international debates on land rights. This project is part of a group of IDRC-supported projects in sub-Saharan Africa entitled “Using Action Research to Improve Land Rights and Governance for Communities, Women and Vulnerable Groups”