The Politics of “Win-Win” Narratives: Land Grab as Development Opportunity?

By Elisa Da Vià

Intorduction: In the Makeni area of central Sierra Leone, a land dispute has flared up after Addax Bioenergy, a division of the Swiss-based energy corporation Addax & Oryx Group, won a 50-years lease for around 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) to produce ethanol for export to the EU market. When they signed away their land with thumb prints in villages of mud huts without electricity or running water, local farmers were told that the Addax project wouldn’t affect the seasonally waterlogged “bolilands” where most subsistence rice production takes place, because the sugarcane was to be planted in drier areas (Akam 2010). From the outset, the firm committed to create 2,000 jobs, train and support farmers with inputs and agricultural equipment, bring infrastructural development, and generate further employment opportunities for local businesses and outgrowers. Since 2008, however, Addax has employed only fifty local men to work in its sugarcane nursery, paying them the equivalent of a mere USD $2.50 a day on a casual basis (Daniel and Mittal 2010). In the meantime, irrigation channels dug up by the company have drained some of the bolilands, thus damaging the rice fields, while other food crops such as cassava and wild palm trees used for cooking oil were razed when the land was leased (Akam 2010). Local pastoralists and land tenants are being displaced to make way to the sugar plantation, and the large-scale use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for agrofuel production is threatening the groundwater and food harvests in surrounding lands (Baxter 2010).

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