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June 19, 2011

Controversy, mixed reactions in Sierra Leone to new biofuel investment

by African Agriculture

The news of a new biofuels venture in Sierra Leone by a Swiss investor has stirred controversy and a bitter war of words between opponents and supporters.

The chairman of a human rights group in the district in which it is to be based, Bombali, is reported as saying in 2010 that ''the issue of the multinational companies including Magbass Sugar Complex, Addax Bio Energy and African Minerals Limited, are violating the rights of private land owners and their workers.''

A German environmental group, Rainforest Rescue, in February 2010 began a 'protest action' on its website against the investment. 'Addax’s ethanol project is likely to worsen the situation' of widespread hunger, malnutrition and low life expectancy, says the group. It continues, 'Cassava is the country’s staple food and a conflict between food and cars will be created. Small farmers are to be paid the meager compensation of $6 per hectare per year for the loss of their land. Very few jobs will be created because the harvest will be mechanized. Furthermore, sugar cane plantations and ethanol refining require large quantities of water, which will be taken from the nearby Rokel River.'

Various sectors of government and other groups in eager support of the investment reacted in alarm and anger at reports they feared would jeorpadise it. A Sierra Leonine contributor to the debate wrote that the chairman of the Bombali district council 'described Rain Forest Rescue’s claims as unfounded and baseless and aimed at destroying the turn-around the economy of this poverty-stricken nation.' The article cites many other local groups as condemning the German environmental group's petition and citing the various benefits they hoped the project would bring to the area.

An online article dated June 15 2011 said a local civil society organisation in the geographical region of the investment released a report into an investigation it said it conducted into allegations that 'some non-governmental organizations with western background had accused Addax Bioenergy of entering into an unfair deal with land owners in their operational areas, and that the land the people had used for food production has been taken away with no clear option for food production, the other allegation is that the people are not consulted in the entire process.'

The article says the group 'found no evidence of any land grabbing in their investigation, but rather it find out that Addax did have on-going consultations with all land owning families...the land lease documentation was indeed made public one year before signing and that the project ESHIA was also publicly made available for three months which included the Land lease documents.'

The report of the civic group reportedly also, 'described recent reports about Addax Bioenergy as being non-factual, outdated, incorrect, falsified and that all the authors of such report failed to propose viable or sustainable solutions as how to lift the people of the country out of poverty.'

African Agriculture

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