AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES

MANOCAP CASE STUDY

A good example is ManoCap’s investment in Sierra Fishing Company (SFC), Sierra Leone’s largest fish supplier. The investment case for Sierra Leone’s fishing sector is clear: 80 per cent. of Sierra Leone’s protein intake comes from seafood, and the country’s deep-water location provides an ideal platform.

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SECTORS IN PERSPECTIVE


Agriculture is the backbone of the Sierra Leonean economy, with the sector accounting for an estimated8 per cent. of GDP and employing around two-thirds of the national labour force.

Notwithstanding this, the sector’s vast potential is still largely untapped. Sierra Leone is endowed with approximately 5.4 million hectares of arable agricultural land, of which almost 75 per cent. is available for cultivation. The country boasts fertile soils and its ample rainfall averages roughly 3,800mm per year, making it one of the most humid countries in Africa. This climate supports a broad range of crops including rice, cassava and groundnuts, as well as livestock and cash crops, such as coffee, cocoa and palm oil.

While small-scale subsistence farming currently predominates the sector, the GoSL is looking to FDI to boost productivity through mechanised commercial agricultural development and investments across the agriculture value chain.

Fisheries are one of Sierra Leone’s lesser known sources of untapped wealth, yet they have the potential to become the country’s second largest sector for exports after minerals.

 

LEGAL AND REGULATORY LANDSCAPE


 

The GoSL’s policy and strategic framework for the agriculture sector focuses on providing better quality and wider access to inputs and infrastructure, and improving storage and processing facilities to increase productivity, achieve food security and expand exports.

Investors should consider a number of areas of policy and regulation that impact the structuring and commercial viability of investments in the agriculture sector. These include land and water rights, environmental regulations, labour laws, local content requirements, and licensing and permitting requirements.

Land

As outlined here, there are two distinct land tenure systems in Sierra Leone. In Freetown and the Western Area, title to land can be bought and sold under a freehold system. Outside of these areas, where much of the country’s agricultural land is situated, only leasehold interests in land can be bought and sold and reversionary title to the land is retained by indigenous communities, represented by local chiefs. Foreign investors are not permitted to own title to land under either system, but can lease land for a term of up 99 years.

For investors unfamiliar with customary tenure-based land systems in Africa, the involvement of local chiefs in the leasing process can be concerning and act as a deterrent to investment. The new NLP aims to, amongst other things, promote law reforms that will further harmonise the two distinct land tenure systems (which Sierra Leone’s Law Reform Commission is currently working on), facilitate access to land for responsible investment and develop a centralised land title registration system to reduce the prevalence of title disputes. The GoSL is prepared to assist foreign entities in negotiations with chiefs and landowners however the practicalities are complex. In certain cases, the GoSL may also take a head lease on provincial lands and sub-lease to agribusiness investors so as to mitigate any perceived risks of privity between customary land owners and foreign investors. The NLP also contemplates the GoSL making government-owned land in rural areas available for large-scale investment.

The leasehold rights of agribusiness investors are protected by the wide-ranging guarantees against expropriation set out in the IPA. To date, no claims appear to have been brought against the GoSL pursuant to these provisions under the IPA.

Water

Sierra Leone is one of Africa’s most water abundant countries, with renewable water resources of around 25,000 cubic metres per capita per year. As is common in West Africa, in Sierra Leone water is considered a communal resource. Use rights are subject to recognition of the rights of others to the resource, and preservation of the water’s quality. A landholder may claim rights to a stream or other water source on his or her land. There are hurdles with respect to water use in Sierra Leone, as the country lacks a comprehensive legal framework governing its water resources.

Notwithstanding the above, ascertaining which relevant permits and consents are required for water extraction poses a challenge to potential investors as the country is only in the early stages of implementing the reform process envisioned by the new water law (as referred to in the INFRASTRUCTURE section ) and the establishment of a central body charged with managing the country’s water resources, the National Water Resources Board, is not yet complete (see here for more information). Once implemented, however, these reforms are expected to simplify the permitting process for investors.

Environment

Before initiating any agribusiness and/or fisheries project, investors are required pursuant to the relevant environmental laws to undertake an environmental social and health impact assessment, inform affected communities of the results of the assessment and address any community objection to a project through community consultative meetings and community sensitisation programmes.

The EPA has broad responsibility for ensuring private-sector compliance with environmental regulations in Sierra Leone, including environmental, social and health impact assessment procedures.

Where projects are financed by the international lending community, stricter environmental compliance, such as compliance with the Equator Principles and the IFC Performance Standards, will be required.

Although the primary environmental legislation applicable in Sierra Leone provides the environmental regulator with the power to promulgate regulations in respect of the control of effluent discharge and the release of hazardous and toxic materials, no such regulations have been enacted to date. That being said, the GoSL has held several public workshops with interested parties on the adoption of such regulations and it is envisaged that a more robust environmental protection regime should become applicable in Sierra Leone in the near future.

Labour

The Agribusiness Trade Council regulates labour relations within the sector. Labour regulation in Sierra Leone is relatively flexible and only certain aspects of working conditions for agricultural workers are regulated by law. For example, the national minimum wage mentioned here (currently Le 500,000 (US$70) per month) and official daily working hours (currently eight hours) are mandated by the GoSL. Agricultural workers have the right to join a union and enter into CBAs under Sierra Leonean labour laws. In practice, working conditions for agricultural workers are largely governed by such CBAs with their employers. Productivity-based worker payment structures are widely applied and there is no legal prohibition on compulsory overtime.

Around 40 per cent. of the Sierra Leonean formal sector labour force is unionised (including mainly agricultural workers, mineworkers, and health workers). The National Union of Forestry & Agricultural Workers, which forms part of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (a prominent umbrella organisation of trade unions) has approximately 1,100 declared members. Unions have the right to strike under national trade union laws, subject to giving 21 days’ notice to the GoSL.

Local Content Requirements

Sierra Leone has an investor-friendly approach to local participation. 100 per cent. foreign ownership is permitted in most sectors of the economy (exceptions, such as the mining sector, have been noted in INVESTING IN SIERRA LEONE). Although Sierra Leone has adopted a national local content policy, the GoSL acknowledges that at present there is insufficient capacity in the local labour market to be able to supply goods and services to business undertakings. With the assistance of development partners such as the UN and DFID, the GoSL is building capacity in the local market.

Under the LCA, agribusiness investors are required to establish and support out-grower schemes for small-holder farmers to build the capacity of small and medium scale agriculture in rural areas in particular. SLIEPA guidance also indicates that agribusiness investors are “expected” to make social contributions to local communities as part of the negotiation of land leases. These may include community capacity building projects, infrastructure development and/or rehabilitation or the payment of royalties). There are no express legal requirements or consequences for a failure to make such contributions.

 

MANOCAP CASE STUDY

A good example is ManoCap’s investment in Sierra Fishing Company (SFC), Sierra Leone’s largest fish supplier. The investment case for Sierra Leone’s fishing sector is clear: 80 per cent. of Sierra Leone’s protein intake comes from seafood, and the country’s deep-water location provides an ideal platform.

READ MORE >>

INVESTOR HIGHLIGHTS


The case for investing in agriculture in Sierra Leone is highly compelling, particularly considering the country’s vast availability of agricultural land. The sector also compares favourably against its counterparts in other comparable markets on a number of commercial variables, including labour costs and leasing costs for agricultural land. Resource-related costs are minimal, for instance, Sierra Leone does not charge agribusinesses for water utilisation.

Agriculture is a strategic growth sector for the GoSL. Increasing agricultural productivity is central to the GoSL’s poverty reduction and food security aims, as stated in the A4P and the Post-Ebola Recovery Strategy. This is reflected in the GoSL’s efforts to create an enabling environment for agribusiness investors through numerous sector-specific investment incentives and the availability of wide-ranging investment facilitation assistance from SLIEPA. For example, tax incentives available to certain agribusinesses include a complete exemption from income tax for up to ten years from the time of investment and a 50 per cent. exemption from withholding taxes on dividends, as well as a complete exemption from import duties on agricultural inputs such as farm machinery, equipment and agro-chemicals. Export licences are required for agricultural goods.

Key opportunities for investment include cash crops such as cocoa, coffee and palm oil, with the GoSL promoting investment in the rehabilitation and expansion of existing plantations and estates, as well as agro-processing, and further planning to establish (tax free) export processing zones in the country. There are also significant opportunities and incentives for investments in the production, processing and marketing of domestically produced rice, Sierra Leone’s staple food, as well as livestock-rearing and slaughter facilities to cater for the increasing demand for meat.

Sierra Leone is also emerging as a viable destination for CCS projects, with a number of major deals for carbon capture projects signed in recent years. Forestry and plantation activities in particular provide opportunities for foreign investors to earn credits under the Framework Convention on Climate Change Clean Development Mechanism that can be traded on the global carbon market. The GoSL has already identified a number of further potential sites for CCS-driven investment projects.

There are also opportunities for investment in Sierra Leone’s fisheries. The region is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds. Sierra Leone’s 506km coastline and 30,000km continental shelf boast a commercially viable stock of fish. The fisheries sector contributes approximately 8 per cent. of Sierra Leone’s GDP, and fish constitutes around 80 per cent. of animal protein consumed by Sierra Leoneans. Total fish production is increasing year on year, with production rising from roughly 60,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes in the past decade, but revenue generation is still far below its potential. In 2010, the economic value of yields was estimated to be more than US$100 million per annum.

The GoSL signed its first PPP for fish receiving centres in 2014, during the midst of the Ebola crisis, and has plans to develop an integrated fishing harbour along with fish processing plants in Freetown. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has also been looking at ways to distribute fish products to cold stores in major regional centres.

With support from the AfDB, a marine training school has been developed. There are opportunities for investment in the operation and management of the training school.

LION MOUNTAINS CASE STUDY

Lion Mountains began farming operations in Bo District, Sierra Leone in October 2014, at what proved to be the height of the Ebola epidemic. Despite the additional challenges of the medical emergency, the pilot phase was launched successfully, establishing Lion Mountains as an active member of the local farming community.

READ MORE >>

LION MOUNTAINS CASE STUDY

Lion Mountains began farming operations in Bo District, Sierra Leone in October 2014, at what proved to be the height of the Ebola epidemic. Despite the additional challenges of the medical emergency, the pilot phase was launched successfully, establishing Lion Mountains as an active member of the local farming community.

READ MORE >>

KEY CHALLENGES


 

Sierra Leone’s agriculture is constantly under threat from climatic hazards such as droughts, floods and changing rainfall patterns – threats which are widely expected to increase as a result of climate change. Infrastructure in many areas, and in particular the rural road network and electricity grid, will require sizeable investment in order to create a holistic enabling environment for agribusiness. An estimated 5,000km of road is required to meaningfully improve access to rural areas. However, this is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge for investors.

Supplies of fertilizers and pesticides are well below domestic requirements. Fires, which are used as a means of land clearance, can be problematic for those operating in the agriculture sector.

To address these challenges, the Platform was created and launched in August 2011 by President Koroma. The Platform has seven sub-committees which cover fires and pest infestation, as well as a range of other socio-natural and man-made hazards such as mudslides, storms, and transport accidents. The Platform’s mandate includes lobbying the GoSL to commit and respond to disaster risk reduction through, among other things, the implementation of policies, standards and regulations by the relevant MDAs. In addition, vulnerability and capacity assessments are carried out in some key local risk areas with support from various NGOs to understand the nature and level of risks faced by the particular area. As outlined above, environmental impact assessments are systematically conducted for agribusiness and fisheries operations.

Food insecurity increases during the lean season (June to August). During this period, 45 per cent. of the population, or 2.5 million people, do not access sufficient food. In the past the GoSL has sought to avoid food shortages and price hikes through temporary export bans on widely consumed staple foods such as rice and palm oil.

Sierra Leone is currently lacking a well-structured public sector “agricultural extension service”, which would help investors obtain technical information and manage risks through research and development, training and the use of extension agents to build connections between farmers, the GoSL planners, NGOs and the private sector. The benefits of such services are evident in Ghana’s cocoa industry for instance.

Export quality controls in Sierra Leone can be improved. Exporters are required to obtain a quality certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security. Requests for facilitation payments have been Such practices have in the past resulted in poor quality produce being exported, which in turn negatively impacts the price of the country’s agricultural export. In a positive step for the international marketability of Sierra Leonean fish, the GoSL allocated Le 7.3 billion (close to US$1 million) to obtaining EU certification for the country’s fishery products (a pre-requisite for exporting fish into the EU), among other initiatives supporting the country’s fisheries, in its 2016 Budget.

The principal challenge to the fisheries sector is illegal fishing, estimated to cost Sierra Leone US$29 million annually. The GoSL and its multilateral partners have been proactive in seeking to curb this practice, however – the GoSL procured a highly sophisticated fisheries patrol boat late last year and the World Bank has recently announced plans to invest in a high-tech monitoring system to deter illegal fishing.