Land acquisitions are on the increase in Africa and other continents, raising the risk, if not made properly, that poor people will be evicted or lose access to land, water, and other resources, according to the first detailed study of the trend.
The study has been realized by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) at the request of FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It warns that such deals can bring many opportunities (guaranteed outlets, employment, investment in infrastructures, increases in agricultural productivity) but can also cause great harm if local people are excluded from decisions about allocating land and if their land rights are not protected.
The report highlights a number of misconceptions about what have been termed land grabs. It found that land-based investment has been rising over the past five years. But while foreign investment dominates, domestic investors are also playing a big role in land acquisitions.
Private sector deals are more common than government-to-government ones, though governments are using a range of tools to indirectly support private deals.
Concerns about food and energy security are key drivers, but other factors such as business opportunities, demand for agricultural commodities for industry and recipient country agency are also at play. Although large-scale land claims remain a small proportion of suitable land in any one country, contrary to widespread perceptions there is very little “empty” land as most remaining suitable land is already under use or claim, often by local people.
The report found that many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods and welfare. A lack of transparency and of checks and balances in contract negotiations can promote deals that do not maximize the public interest. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps and other factors too often undermine the position of local people.
It calls for carefully assessing local contexts, including existing land uses and claims; securing land rights for rural communities; involving local people in negotiations, and proceeding with land acquisition only after their free, prior and informed consent.
A complicated picture
Co-authors Sonja Vermeulen and Lorenzo Cotula of IIED caution that land acquisitions vary greatly and that blanket statements about land-grabbing are highly misleading.
“Ultimately, whether international land deals seize opportunities and mitigate risks depends on their terms and conditions – what business models are used, how costs and benefits are shared, and who decides on these issues and how,” says Cotula. “This calls for proper regulation, skilful negotiation and public oversight.”
“In many countries, provisions for including local people in decision-making are usually absent or poorly implemented and this increases the risk of them losing access to land and other resources,” adds Vermeulen.
“The scale of land acquisitions has been exaggerated but in many countries the agreements that allow foreign ownership of land can be very problematic,” she adds.
Alexander Mueller, Head of the Environment and Natural Resources Department at FAO stresses the need to see foreign investment and large-scale land acquisitions in the context of global food security challenges.
“This new trend is a result of the recent food crisis and volatility of food prices, among other factors. The new challenges of global food insecurity and global investment should be addressed through appropriate regulations, and well-informed agricultural and food policies. The study should help to link decisions on investment with an awareness of all implications, including social and environmental ones. Developing guidelines for land governance, or a code to regulate international investments might be useful to improve decision making and negotiations. FAO and its partners are currently working together to develop such guidelines, and this study is a first step in this process,” Mueller said.
“I would avoid the blanket term ‘land-grabbing’,” says Rodney Cooke, IFAD Director, Technical Advisory Division. “Done the right way, these deals can bring benefits for all parties and be a tool for development.”
“The poor women and men that IFAD works with every day must not be sidelined,” adds Cooke. “Their input and their interests must be central, and we must ensure that any benefits promised, such as employment, infrastructure, agricultural know-how, do materialize.”
The study, Land Grab or Development Opportunity? Agricultural Investments and International Land Deals in Africa, includes new research from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.
It was undertaken by an IIED team with inputs from, and in close collaboration with, FAO and IFAD. It was funded by FAO, IFAD, IIED and the UK Department for International Development.
– Source of the above story: FAO News
– The complete study — pdf file
– More on Land Grabs in Oromia and elsewhere in Ethiopia
―Antes del advenimiento del neoliberalismo en la década del 80, muchos gobiernos africanos, como el de Tanzania, asistían a los pequeños agricultores de sus países mediante diferentes subsidios, incluso a la investigación, el transporte y los servicios de procesamiento.
―Malawi y Zimbabwe eran en algún momento países prósperos con una producción de granos excedentaria respecto del nivel de consumo de su gente. Ruanda era virtualmente autosuficiente en alimentos hasta 1990 cuando las políticas del FMI le hicieron abrir los mercados a los granos subsidiados, con políticas inmorales de dumping que llevaron a todos sus pequeños productores a la ruina. En los años 91/92 el hambre golpeó Kenia, el país más exitoso del este de Africa en lo que respecta a producción de trigo. Pero claro, poco antes a su gobierno lo habían puesto en la lista negra por no querer someterse a las condiciones del Fondo. Porque la desregulación y apertura a las importaciones de granos era una condición puesta para renovar y reprogramar la deuda externa con sus acreedores del Club de París (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Second Edition, Montreal 2003) El patrón que se repite todo a lo largo de Africa, sudeste de Asia y América Latina es el de que todas las políticas promovidas por las instituciones de Breton Woods llevan siempre a perder la ―seguridad alimentaria‖.
―Kenia era autosuficiente en alimentos hasta hace unos 25 años. En la actualidad importa un 80% de sus alimentos – y un 80% de sus exportaciones son otros productos agrícolas.‖
El caso de Malawi es también muy ilustrativo de lo que decimos. Malawi repartió fertilizantes y semillas gratisa fines del siglo pasado a las familias pobres; como resultado, se consiguieron grandes cosechas que incluso permitían la exportación de cereales. Pero el FMI y el Banco Mundial no podían permitirlo y consiguieron que el gobierno eliminara las ayudas; en consecuencia, la agricultura volvió a su anterior estado de ruina y Malawi sufrió hambrunas en 2001-2002. El FMI lo justificaba diciendo que ―las intervenciones del gobierno en los mercados alimentarios y otros mercados agrícola…ahuyentan un gasto más productivo.‖
En 2005 hubo de nuevo otra crisis de hambruna en Malawi, y el gobierno decidió subsidiar los fertilizantes y las semillas y apoyar la compra de tierras a bajo precio por parte de los pequeños agricultores. El resultado: cosechas excelentes en los años siguientes, que de nuevo permitieron la exportación de cereales. Pero el director del Banco Mundial veía la situación de manera muy diferente: ―Todos esos agricultores que mendigaron, pidieron prestados y robaron para comprar fertilizantes extra el año pasado están ahora examinando su decisión y pensándoselo dos veces cuando consiguieron que las cosas volvieran a su cauce ―normal‖ de pobreza, hambre y opresión.
―Por primera vez en la historia, el gasto mundial en importar comida sobrepasará el trillón de dólares (billón en castellano). Según el informe 'Perspectivas Alimentarias' de la Organización de Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación (FAO), esta suma de dinero será de unos 1.035.000 millones de dólares, 215.000 millones más que el récord del pasado año.‖
La FAO señala que ―para finales del 2008 el gasto anual en alimentos importados podrá suponer cuatro veces más que en el 2000. Puntualiza que el costo total de las importaciones de alimentos de los países de bajos ingresos y con déficit de comestibles puede alcanzar los 169 000 millones de dólares en este año, un 40% más que en el 2007. (PL)"
En 1995, los países ricos subsidiaron a su agricultura con 367.000 millones de dólares; esta cifra era de 388.000 millones de dólares en 2004 (fuente: OMC). ―Los subsidios suponen actualmente el 40% del valor de la producción agrícola en la Unión Europea y el 25% en Estados Unidos. ―
Como consecuencia, millones de agricultores africanos han tenido que abandonar sus tierras y el 46% de la población vive con menos de 1 dólar diario (fuente: Oxfam). El 80% de las personas que padecen hambre son antiguos agricultores o ganaderos arruinados. El 70% de los países en vías de desarrollo son importadores netos de alimentos.
Image above: Map of Africa in 1914. Then only Ethiopia and Liberia were independent nations.
[Publisher's Note: What is happening in Africa continues to happen here in Hawaii. Today it is international corporations (like Dow, Du Pont, Monsanto and Syngenta) that are grabbing land for GMO agrocrops in place of what could be "native" food production.]
By Robert Morley on 17 November 2009 in the Trumpet -
Fifty million acres: gone! It’s a plot of land the size of half the farmland in all of Europe. One year ago, this tract belonged to its natives. Now, foreigners hold the deed. The scale of this landgrab is truly astounding. Nothing similar has taken place since Europeans carved up the subcontinent 200 years ago.
Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey-carving gone wrong, Africa’s in-laws are helping themselves. During the past year, South Korea grabbed 1.7 million acres in Sudan. Saudi Arabia scooped up 1.2 million acres in Tanzania. China gobbled up 6.9 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo and another 5 million acres in Zambia. India plucked up a 99-year lease for over 1 million acres of farmland in Madagascar. Africa is selling the farm.
These are just a few of the published deals, and they might represent just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of what is actually happening under the table, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says.
“In the context of arable land sales, this is unprecedented,” Carl Atkin, a consultant at a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land transactions, said last year. “We’re used to seeing 100,000-hectare [250,000-acre] sales. This is more than 10 times as much” (emphasis mine throughout).
The recent wave of land sales is equivalent to one tenth of the entire area already under plow in Africa. China’s two land deals in the Congo and Zambia alone are roughly equivalent to the total area of Belgium. In fact, China now has greater land holdings in Africa than some African nations.
“[The trend] is accelerating quickly,” Olivier De Schutter, special envoy for food at the UN, said earlier this year. “All countries observe each other, and when one sees others buying land, it does the same.”
But what is driving the massive landgrab in Africa?
Food, fuel and fear. The world can’t live without food and fuel. And when those two are in short supply, you get fear.
From the mid 1940s through the late 1990s, the world’s population grew about 3 percent annually. Food production mirrored population growth during this time. During the past decade, this proportional relationship has completely broken down. Population continues to grow, but grain production has essentially flatlined.
Recent advances in agricultural production, fertilizer usage and mechanization have not led to significantly higher global harvests. Consequently, global food stores are shrinking at a time when they are needed more than ever.
Last year, the world received a foretaste of what a food crunch would feel like. In response to poor harvests, food prices shot up to headline-grabbing levels.
Thailand, Vietnam, China, India and even producer countries like Argentina imposed export curbs on rice to protect their own supplies. Russia and Ukraine imposed export bans on wheat. And Japan (a country that imports 60 percent of its daily food consumption) found out that no matter how much money it offered, it couldn’t buy what wasn’t available. Food riots broke out in over 20 countries around the world, including Haiti, Senegal, Yemen, Egypt and Cameroon. Even in wealthy America, consumers encountered isolated rationing of rice and cooking oil.
The World Bank estimated that the crisis added 100 million to the number of undernourished people worldwide. And 2008 was relatively mild in terms of the actual food shortage.
Food-importing nations were rudely awakened to the fact that international markets cannot be relied upon. During crunch times, the equation becomes every nation for itself, and countries are seeking to insure themselves. China, South Korea and India are taking predicted food shortages very seriously. Three times more international land was purchased or leased during the first seven months of this year than in all of 2008.
The hope is that during the next food crisis, outsourced food production will ensure food security for investing countries. In exchange, Africa’s new colonists promise military equipment, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, power plants and technology—the same sorts of things provided during Africa’s first colonial period.
Fear of oil shortages is also fueling the great African landgrab. China’s and India’s rapid industrialization have lifted millions of people out of poverty. As a consequence, the world’s two most populous nations are now in direct competition for oil supplies with the developed Western world. Who will get these supplies? Those first on the ground.
Like global food production, oil production has flatlined. Since 2005, despite record-high prices and record amounts spent on exploration, the world has not been producing more oil.
According to De Shutter, about 80 percent of the purchased land will be earmarked for food production. However, the other 20 percent is expected to grow biofuel crops. China’s newly purchased 6.8 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo was acquired with the purpose of creating the world’s largest palm-oil plantation.
Oil is what makes the world go round, and Africa’s second-generation colonists are after it. Africa is home to some of the most promising unexploited oil fields on the planet. As oil production has peaked in most of the world’s large conventional fields, Africa has leaped in strategic value. From war-torn Sudan to western Africa’s new power brokers in Guinea, oil props up unsavory regimes and provides access to African terra firma for thirsty industrial economies.
Despite the massive land rush in Africa, one nation is conspicuous by its absence—America.
American investment in Africa is lagging. And now the global economic crisis is taking its toll. Most of America’s trade with Africa is with two oil-exporting countries: Nigeria and Angola. Outside of that, American influence is on the wane.
Europe is “light years ahead” of the U.S. in doing business with Africa, says America’s ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle. With all the new Asian competition, America looks set to lose even more ground. Just last week, China pledged another $10 billion in low-interest loans to African nations—on top of its recent cancellation of some African debt.
The recolonization of Africa is underway. The choice pieces of meat are already being picked off. Only this time, Britain and America will be left with an empty plate in this global dinner of power politics. It is Asia and Europe that will ultimately carve up the future of the great resource-rich southern continent. Africa today already looks eerily like its past.
For a detailed prediction of how the global struggle for resources will play out in Africa, and why Europe is destined to once again become the dominant power, read the articles “Stoking the Engines of Empires” and “The Battleground.”
Ea O Ka Aina: The New Colonialists 8/13/09