Traditional Temne Chief in Sierra Leone land grabbing area (Pic: P. Bottazzi, 2013)

This study combines legal and anthropological approaches to investigate how the establishment of a large-scale biofuel agro-industry is reinterpreting and potentially transforming customary institutional arrangements in rural Sierra Leone. The contractual relationships established between land acquirers and local authorities can be seen as an ‘institutional innovation’ that aims at interpreting and overcoming the limits of the national land regime. However, by formalizing customary land tenure structures through land registration, such innovations are exacerbating pre-existing social inequalities. We identified four categories of resulting conflicts: interlineage, intervillage, interfamily and intergenerational conflicts. Taken together, these conflicts question the current land-based sociopolitical structures of rural Sierra Leone and could be drivers of societal change.

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