A narration of how a foreign company acquired thousands of hectares of land from the people of Breweniase in the Oti Region for a bargain price has left participants in a national symposium shocked, compelling a call for assistance for re-negotiation for the landowners.
The company, known as Hirrackles Oil Palm Company from Cameroun, reportedly acquired the land for palm oil plantation in 2008 after an agreement to pay the farmers $5 per hectare for a period of 50 years.
Before they signed the agreement, the company reportedly had promised that it was going to pay them some lump sums for their land in addition to the $5 per hectare agreement.
That, however, did not happen.
“We have sold our destiny, and now carrying our death warrant wherever we go,” a worried landowner, Johannes Kofibi, said at the symposium organised last Wednesday by Caritas Ghana on Protocols and Legal Procedures on Land Acquisition in Ghana.
The symposium was to launch a report on a study on land rights and acquisition of land in four communities, namely Tanchara in the Wa Diocese (Upper West Region), Babator in the Damongo Diocese (Savannah Region), Subinso in the Koforidua Diocese (Eastern Region) and Breweniase in the Jasikan Diocese of the Oti Region.
Caritas Ghana, a Catholic charity organisation, undertook the baseline survey on land ownership and land acquisition in the communities to be used for public awareness creation and advocacy with key institutions responsible for land administration.
Mr Kofibi said the 86 landowners were first hosted at a hotel where they were given GH¢20,000 cedis to share and asked to sign the document to lease their lands, which they were made to understand would later become beneficial to them with the start of the project.
He said the farmers, however, lost their livelihoods thereafter, and were not even allowed to enter their lands to fetch even firewood, medicine or hunt because the company now owned the lands.
Mr Kofibi said although they agreed to lease the land, they made a mistake by not being diligent enough, thereby signing “our death warrant”.
Indicating that they had already committed themselves but wanted a fair deal, Mr Kofibi said: “We, Breweniase people, have leased a total of 3,715 hectares of land to the company.
We are only bothered about the payment.
They pay us $5 per hectare.
That is our headache.
We have signed it for 50 years”.
Support of NGO
Mr Kofibi said the farmers came to the realisation that they had been cheated when African Faith and Justice Network, a non-governmental organisation which had been monitoring the activities of the Hirrackles Company in Cameroun, came in to build their capacity to fight to take their land back.
Currently, Hirrackles Company has packed out of the country after reselling the concession to another company, Volta Red Oil Company.
He appealed to Caritas Ghana and the Ghana Legal Aid Commission to support them to get the legal support to have the contract renegotiated or set aside as they were not in the position to battle the matter in court themselves.
A consultant in rural development, Dr Patrick Tandoh, who presented the report, revealed that people relied on chiefs and community-level intermediaries to have access to land and landed property, and that the chiefs wielded too much power in deciding access to land in communities.
He indicated that it would be useful, therefore, to assist the chiefs and community leaders to appreciate and understand the role they played in ensuring equitable access to land for all community members through training workshops, orientation, advocacy, among others.
The study, he said, further showed that majority of people in these communities demanded land for farming purposes.
However, the tenure systems were not properly organised to facilitate land acquisition and access for all.
For instance, the report said, whereas people in Subinso and Breweniase attested to some level of fairness in access to land for all in their communities, people from Babator and Tanchara areas reflected otherwise, with sentiments among female participants who spoke about the challenges women faced in acquiring land and landed property.
Some recommendation from the study included education on the legal frameworks and processes in land acquisition, education and sensitisation to the need for proper land property documentation and registration, the need to define the roles of chiefs in land and landed property allocation and purchases, and for the regional houses of chiefs to set up various ethical codes of conduct to guide the chiefs in issues related to land management.