Monday, January 24, 2011

Land Grab

The so-called African land grab grabbed a lot of headlines at the end of 2009: Guardian, NYTimes, BBC, not a bad collection, all available through the African Agriculture blog.

Malibya, the Libyan government's development company in Mali, has built one of the largest canals in Africa. The largely critical article from The Guardian [who apparently failed to ask permission to be on the company's land] notes that 150 families were forced off their land for the canal with minimal compensation and worries that this is only the beginning.
"The government are bandits. What they are doing is completely against every law," says Ibrahim Coulibaly, president of the Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes, which has been organising protests. "Even if the land does belong to the government, the people living on it still have rights, and we will do everything to fight against this injustice."
Mapping systems are said to be quite poor, causing construction workers to dig up several cemeteries which led, very understandably, to further local opposition. There are also serious concerns about water rights issues. A NYTimes article mentioned that " 'In Mozambique, one investment company discovered an entire village with its own post office on what had been described as vacant land,' said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations food rapporteur. ... The agreement signed with the Libyans grants them the land for at least 50 years simply in exchange for developing it."

Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, says that “The food security of the country concerned must be first and foremost in everybody’s mind. Otherwise it is straightforward exploitation and it won’t work. We have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind.”

Of course, statements like this from the state-funded companies do little to help:
Kassoum Denon, the regional head for the Office du Niger, accused the Malian opponents of being paid by Western groups that are ideologically opposed to large-scale farming. “We are responsible for developing Mali,” he said. “If the civil society does not agree with the way we are doing it, they can go jump in a lake.”
One US project is supporting 800 farmers to acquire title to about 12 acres of land each.

How large are the parcels of land being transferred to foreign governments? The World Bank estimates that, between Jan-Nov in 2009 alone, enough land to match California and West Virginia combined, more than 10 times the size of annual land transfer deals worldwide before the food price spike. In Mali, the range is between 600k [as reported by the foreigners] and 1.5 million hectares.

BBC reports that Ethiopia is selling off an area the size of Belgium populated largely by ethnic minorities at about $10/yr/ha. "The Ethiopian government stipulates that foreign investors will have to satisfy domestic food needs before they can export." The government claims that the land is unused, but there are millions of pastoralists in the country, many of whom pass through that area and none of whom are being compensated.

More posts on the Africa "land grab," and a general article mentioning several of the larger deals and concerns. Senegal is reportedly in talks with Saudi Arabia about a parcel of land 4 times the size of Manhattan.

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