The other 20 percent of Sierra Leone’s arable land is currently leased to foreign businesses for mining, large-scale agriculture, and other development ventures. As in many countries, negotiations between investors and the communities whose land they seek are fraught with deep power imbalances and undermined by weak regulations.
Recent changes in the law, however, are creating a seismic shift that are historic for the women of Sierra Leone who have fought for decades for the right to own their own land.
In 2022, the Government of Sierra Leone passed two new laws that will help boost the rights of women to own land and against land grabs by big mining and agribusiness firms.
The Customary Land Rights Act 2022 guarantees women’s equal rights and access to land and bans industrial development in protected, conserved or ecologically sensitive areas. The Land Commission Act 2022 protects the rights of rural landowners and women against land grabs by big mining and agribusiness firms.
For the past five years, Trócaire and local partners Association for the Wellbeing of Rural Communities and Development (ABC-D), Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR) and Women’s Forum for Human Rights and Democracy (WOFHRAD) have been advocating for change and women’s land rights.
The organisations campaigned for and worked closely with parliamentarians on the two new land rights acts that were passed by the Government in Sierra Leone in August 2022.
Following the enactment of the acts, Trócaire and local partners provided training to women like Kanu to know their land rights. This involves supporting women’s negotiations for lease agreement for land, and helping to train women on best farming practices to ensure they produce a quality harvest.
The organisations also formed women’s farming groups which were legally recognised with local authorities and eligible for government assistance. They also help women to access loans from village savings groups so they can diversify their crops and reduce their dependence on agriculture.
‘I fought for five years for my father’s land’
In February 2023, Kanu officially received ownership of her father’s land, which she says was “life-changing”. She says she now can diversify the crops she grows on her acre of land and make more income to take care of her family.
“I am very happy and proud of myself for challenging the men and for fighting for my rights,” Kanu says. “My life has changed now that I have my own land.”
“I can now grow yams, mangoes, bananas and cashews. When I grew rice, I could only use it to feed my children. Now I can grow various crops and feed my family as well as selling extra to make more money.”