‘Catastrophic’: Sierra Leone sells rainforest to Chinese fish factory | Sierra Leone
A $ 55 million (£ 39 million) deal by the government of Sierra Leone with China to build an industrial fishing port on 100 hectares (250 acres) of beach and protected rainforest has been criticized as “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster” by conservationists, landowners and rights groups.
The gold and black sands of Black Johnson Beach border the African nation’s Western Region Peninsula National Park, home to endangered species including headache antelope and pangolins. The waters are rich in sardines, barracudas and groupers, caught by local fishermen who produce 70% of the fish for the domestic market.
After reports of a Chinese-backed fishmeal factory began circulating on social media, a statement believed to have come from Sierra Leone’s fisheries ministry confirmed the deal, but denied that the planned construction was a “fish factory”. The facility would be a port for tuna and “other larger fishing vessels” exporting to international markets, he said. It would include a “waste management element” to “recycle marine and other litter into useful products”.
The government said the beach, one of several along the national 400 km coastline, was the “most suitable place” for construction, and revealed that the finance ministry had set aside compensation of 13.76 billion leones (£ 950,000) for affected landowners. But the statement leaves more questions than answers, say those who oppose the plan.
Two legal campaign groups, the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone, wrote to the government, under the Right of Access to Information Act 2013, demanding to see the environmental and social impact assessment studies, and the report showing that the beach was, as claimed, the most suitable place of construction “in terms of bathymetry, social guarantees (minimum resettlement costs) and questions environmental ”. They are also looking for a copy of the grant agreement between China and Sierra Leone.
ILRAJ lawyer Basita Michael said: “The press release was very vague. It left us wondering how we got here and how come we only hear about this now. We have the right to know more. “
James Tonner, who owns land in Black Johnson with his mother, Jane Aspden Gbandewa, wrote an open letter to President Julius Maada Bio, calling on him to step in and stop construction, which Tonner said would be “disastrous for the country. and the planet ”.
It would destroy virgin rainforest, plunder fish stocks and pollute fish breeding grounds and several ecosystems, Tonner said. The beach is on Whale Bay, so named because whales and dolphins are seen there.
Tonner, who lives in London, has set up a crowdfunding page to fund a judicial review of the deal. The government could act unconstitutionally if it acquired the land on a compulsory basis, he said, because the constitution requires such a decision to be in the public interest. The compensation reported by the government was also unfair, he argued, saying the rate was around 30 times lower than the market value of the land.
“Under the constitution, the government can sequester land if it is in the public interest,” Tonner said. “Even though this is only a deep water port, it is not in the public interest because it is not a suitable site. There are fish breeding grounds in the lagoon. This will wipe out the local living fish populations. “
Tito Gbandewa, Tonner’s father-in-law, is a former fisherman who runs an eco-tourism business on the beach and owns around 1.2 hectares. He said, “If they do that here the water will be dirty, there will be a lot of oil and noise, the trawlers will be everywhere.
“Our own fishermen will not have a place to fish. Everything will be spoiled. Tourism will be over. “
Dr Sama Banya, president emeritus of the Sierra Leone Conservation Society, echoed Gbandewa’s comments, saying the proposed development would have a “disastrous” impact on tourism and “the fishing industry itself.” it is supposed to support ”.
Sierra Leone’s fisheries minister Emma Kowa Jalloh insisted the plan was for a port, not a fishmeal factory. She said: “I can categorically tell you that there is no fish mill. [sic] go to Black Johnson. What we are doing is a fishing port that will be built by the Chinese government. A fish mill is something where you are going to catch all the baby fish and grind them into food to give to pigsties and aquaculture fish – and that’s not true.
It would be built with a “grant” from the Chinese government and Sierra Leone’s own funds in the form of land, she said. Half of the land needed belonged to the government, she said, including the waterfront, up to 200 meters from the sea. The rest was acquired by forced acquisition, she said.
“People are making a big deal out of it,” added the minister. “I would just like to appeal to people: ‘Be patient, we want to be developed, we want to grow, we want to be classified as a country to come. There has to be development and someone has to sacrifice themselves.
“I’m not saying everything will be 100% perfect, but we’ll make sure it’s almost perfect.”