No Land, No Power
Can business deliver on development goals? Swedwatch’s investigations of Swedfund’s investment in a bioenergy project in Sierra Leone shows how women’s rights are sidelined when Addax Bioenergy leases land to grow sugar cane.
The report, entitled “No Land, No Power”, assesses how well this venture lives up to Swedish and international development goals. The Swedish development fund Swedfund has invested 10 million euros of Swedish development aid money into Addax Bioenergy. The company grows sugar to produce ethanol for the European market, whilst also generating electricity for the national grid in Sierra Leone using bagasse, a fibrous waste product in sugar cane production.
Addax Bioenergy leases more than 44 000 hectares of land for the plantations from the local population in 92 villages in northern Sierra Leone. The subsistence farmers receive 6 euros per hectare per year for leasing their land to the company.
Although Addax Bioenergy’s sustainability work has been ambitious, Swedwatch’s investigations show that there is a great need for a clearer rights perspective in the investment. The Swedwatch study shows that women have limited opportunities to benefit from the project. They are not entitled to own land according to local traditions. Women have largely been the ones to cultivate and move around on the land, but they have had a very limited role in the negotiations and they seldom receive any of the leasing payments. They are very much affected by the project, but because of their low status they have had less opportunity to receive information, less access to the complaints mechanisms and less chance to find work than men.
Women need to be given more opportunity to participate in the contract process and to benefit from the project. Ongoing communication with the local population needs to improve and it must be based on local needs, languages and traditions to ensure that constructive participation is made possible.
According to the contracts the land will be leased for the next 50 years and the bioenergy project is still only in its third year of operation. The expectations for the effects of this development are high among both investors and the local population. Swedwatch’s field study has shown that there is a serious risk of the project having a negative impact on the human rights situation in the affected villages. The local population is lacking correct information, or understanding, about the project and many have leased their land to the company because they felt that they had been promised work. The locals in the villages visited by Swedwatch are very disappointed that not more of them have jobs, and seasonal employment creates great uncertainty. The feelings of broken promises have created a strained situation between the company and the local population. This was evident during Swedwatch’s visit, in particular during a protest against the company that risked turning violent.