Nelly Bassily | June 8, 2009
Some say that a second “Scramble for Africa” has begun – a rush for the best African farmland, threatening the return of a kind of colonialism. Others say that foreign interest in agricultural lands could generate income for rural communities, if only they had more influence on the purchase or lease of their farmland. But that is currently not the case. The recent trend of land grabbing is causing small-scale farmers and rural communities to lose access to land and locally-produced food. The recent food crisis has led to an increase in the acquisition of agricultural land in developing countries by governments or private companies seeking to ensure food security for their people, or simply to make a profit.
The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that, by 2050, global food consumption will double. Paul Mathieu works with FAO. He argues that, in an unstable financial market, food insecurity and growing biofuel consumption have led to speculation that land values will increase. And that, consequently, agricultural land has become very attractive to investors.
According to Jean-Yves Carfantan, economist and the author of Choc Alimentaire Mondial (World Food Shock), five countries stand out for their acquisition of foreign arable land: China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. These countries now own over 7.6 million hectares of arable land outside their national territories.
Agricultural land grabs in Africa hit the news with the case of Madagascar. Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean company, entered into negotiations to lease half of Madagascar’s arable land for a period of 99 years. Following mass demonstrations and the arrival of a new president who had promised to cancel the deal, Daewoo was prevented from acquiring the land. But, according to some reports, the company has not stopped trying. Daewoo simply changed its name to “Madagascar Tsako SARLU.” Under this new name, the company is now trying to acquire 10,000 hectares of land in the Vohémar district of Madagascar’s Sava Region, before the next maize growing season in November 2009. These lands are currently being used by vanilla growers.
But it is not only Madagascar that is attracting investor attention. Indeed, there are many similar cases across Africa. GRAIN, an international NGO, has compiled a global list of land grabbing attempts.
Take, for example, Sudan. According to the GRAIN report, Hail Agricultural Development Company (HADCO), a private Saudi agrobusiness firm, has leased 10,000 hectares of land north of Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, for 95 million American dollars (about 68 million Euros). Food produced on these lands would be exported to Saudi Arabia.
In Uganda, another type of land seizure has happened – a government-to-government deal. Egypt is said to have leased 800,000 hectares of land in Uganda to produce wheat, corn and beef, destined for export to Egypt.
There is also the example of China, which has signed agreements with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Tanzania. By 2010, one million Chinese peasants will be living on African lands and growing rice. The Chinese government says the expatriate farmers will increase production in the host countries. But according to Mr. Carfantan, it is clear that a good part of the production is aimed at supplying the Chinese market.
Michael Taylor works with the International Land Coalition. He foresees an increase in the leasing and purchasing of land in Africa. But he remains hopeful. Mr Taylor believes that, increasingly, foreign investors will realize that it is not in their best interest to purchase or lease large tracts of land without prior consultation with local communities. Even if a government says “yes” to the purchase or lease of a piece of land, the foreign company or government will inevitably face the discontent of local people if they were not consulted and/or if they have been displaced. The case of Daewoo is a good example of the fruits of local discontent.