Land Grab: African Dignity Under Attack•
The growing need for food and environmentally friendly fuels in developed countries has seen a rise in demand for agricultural land and an increase in land purchases in developing nations.
Most of the countries are drawn from the Asian Tigers and the rich nations in the Gulf region.
Last year, Oxfam revealed that the World Bank had tripled its lending for land deals (mostly in Africa) in the last decade to more than US$8 billion, adding an area the size of London was being sold to foreign investors every sixth day.
The NGO said this development was, however, undermining efforts by most African states to ensure food security.
“The World Bank is in a unique position to help stop land grabs becoming one of the biggest scandals of the century,” said Barbara Stocking, the Oxfam chief executive.
“Investment should be good news for developing countries not lead to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.”
Since coming to power in 2006, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's government has overseen the granting of more than one-third of its land to foreign investors for agriculture, logging, forestry and mining operations.
“We want higher standards to govern these investments to ensure that the deals are transparent and that the people on the land can give their free, prior and informed consent,” said Max Lawson, Oxfam's head of advocacy.
Two thirds of the land acquired by rich nation investors over the last decade is in Africa, the continent with the greatest food needs.
The total acreage transferred to sovereign wealth funds, multinational food producers and even, hedge funds could provide food for one billion.
Researchers found that in the three-year period between 2007 and 2009 only seven percent of land in Mozambique transferred to agricultural investors was planted with food crops. At the time, more than a third of families in the country did not have enough food to eat.
The researchers found that an alarming trend to grow bio-fuels on the land had emerged with cases where countries have negotiated the right to export all production, even if famine strikes the host country.
Lawson said that three fifths of land acquired by foreign investors in developing nations was for export.
“It's not growing food for the benefit of the local population,” he said.
Nkoyo Toyo, a Nigerian lawmaker said the large-scale purchases amount to an attack on the dignity of African states still struggling with the legacy of colonialism.
“This buying up of land is negating all attempts to build sustainable agricultural development,” she said. “It is an attack on [Africa 's] food, its water sources, the nutrition of its children, its women and on its states.”
Support for Oxfam has come from the Network of Farmers and Agricultural Producers Organisations of West Africa and the Regional Platform of Farmers' Organisation in Central Africa.
In an interview with Iranian’s Press TV, this week former Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action, Nnmmo Bassey, said the “land grabs” had disempowered African farmers.
“Farmers have been so disempowered they do not have the tools and all they need to be productive,” he said.
He said the political elites were responsible for “auctioning” resources at the expense of their people and cited an example in South Sudan where land measuring 600 000 hectares was sold for a mere US$25 000. Josephine Muntali, the spokesperson for the African Diaspora IF Campaign said most deals being entered into are skewed in favour of the foreign investors.
“It’s part of the trade policy and it is a policy that favours foreign investors,” she said.
She equated the sales to re-colonisation of Africa as most land that had traditionally been owned under a social contract in African communities is being transferred to foreigners.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says these sales increased because of pressure from growing populations, particularly in Asia, and because of climate change.
As a result Tanzania, Mali, Zambia, Ethiopia, the DRC, Sudan, Kenya, Madagascar and many other countries with cheap and under-utilised fertile farmland are attracting investors from wealthier countries like China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The African Union warns that the huge land deals can exploit Africans, who have a weaker bargaining position.
The Association for the Defence of Collective Interests (ACDIC) says the land transactions are contracted in secret and include a neo-colonial element.
Jacob Kotcho, the association’s permanent secretary, said in reference to land sales in Cameroon: “We’re not against the contracts, but we want to make sure that their contents preserve our development and are guided by specific targets of our development.”
The World Bank also argues that the investment brought by the foreigners has been pivotal for economic development despite protests raised by the opponents of the moves.