Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Publications

Reports

Phase two of our research on land grabs reveals how bad energy policies and development agendas contribute to famine and conflict in Africa.

Read more about the Oakland Institute's ground-breaking research, which reveals previously unpublished details about land grabs across Africa.

Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops. A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana—whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation—are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.

Ethiopia is a locus of international attention in the Horn of Africa due to both its consistently high rates of economic growth and for its continued problems with widespread hunger and poverty. The nation is also significant for being among the most dependent on foreign aid. Topping the worldwide list of countries receiving aid from the US, UK, and the World Bank, the nation has been receiving $3.5 billion on average from international donors in recent years, which represents 50 to 60 percent of its national budget.

A new report exposes the significant discrepancies between how Herakles Farms has represented their palm oil plantation project in Cameroon to the public and what it is telling prospective investors and creditors.

The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others.

Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at giveaway prices. Although proponents of these investments call them “win-win” deals, the reality proves much different. To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands. This relocation process has destroyed livelihoods. It has rendered small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival. Ethiopian officials have also beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to comply with relocation policies.6 These actions are in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law.

Following the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, private equity funds have found a new lucrative soft commodity market to invest in – farmland. In a short period of time, obscured from public view, the flow of private capital into farmland and agriculture has grown dramatically worldwide.

The surge in large-scale commercial interest in land by domestic, international, private, and public actors has prompted a wide variety of stakeholders to consider how such investments may contribute to, rather than erode, local development priorities. The emerging body of evidence points to the significant risks of negative impacts on: access to and control over natural resources, household economies, food security, human rights, and the environment.

Agricultural investment in Zambia is on the rise as the government of this Southern African country is quietly marketing and planning the development of at least 1.5 million hectares (ha) of its land. Abundant supplies of land and water, a “positive” investment climate, and political stability are all touted as incentives for investment. This report contains an analysis of agricultural investment trends in Zambia today.

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Briefs

The Oakland Institute, in partnership with Indian civil society groups Indian Social Action Forum, Kalpavriksh, and Centre for Social Development, organized a discussion forum on issues pertaining to land rights in Ethiopia and India in New Delhi from February 5 to 7, 2013.

From its very name, American-owned SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon, Ltd. (SGSOC) presents a pro-environment, pro-resources image. This is supported by an impressive-sounding partnership with an NGO by the name of All for Africa and as a package typifies the kind of convoluted modern-day foreign investment going on in Africa. It is sadly all too familiar to communities on the ground. They are unimpressed with promises of infrastructure and jobs, and angry about their loss of land and livelihoods.

In June 2011, the Oakland Institute (OI) released details of the largest land deal in Tanzania, which had been hidden away from public scrutiny prior to that and obscured from national debate and discussion. The deal involved Iowa-based Summit Group and the Global Agriculture Fund of the Pharos Financial Group working in partnership with AgriSol Energy LLC and Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The Oakland Institute is proud to have sponsored the first ever assembly of communities impacted by large-scale foreign land investments in Sierra Leone. Between April 1-4, 2012 farmers, small land owners, women, youth, and elders assembled in Freetown to have their voices heard and strategize a way forward. Joan Baxter, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute reports from the meeting.

In 2011, Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd. (Socfin SL) secured 6,500 hectares (ha) of prime farmland for rubber and oil palm plantations in Malen chiefdom in Pujehun district in the south of Sierra Leone. The firm is now seeking an additional 5,000 ha in expansion plans in the Malen region or neighboring chiefdoms. The initial investment, estimated at $100 million, with promises of job creation, compensation for lost farms, and construction of infrastructures, has enjoyed high-level government support. The 50-year lease was signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Dr. Sam Sesay.

In this series of press briefings, Green Scenery examines some key assumptions behind the acquisition of farmland in Sierra Leone, to promote informed public debate. This first briefing note looks into land “availability” in Sierra Leone.

The June 2011 publication of the Oakland Institute’s investigation into AgriSol Energy’s land deal in Tanzania was followed by an indicting televised report from Dan Rather, the involvement of international civil society including the Sierra Club, Tanzanian activists, and a broad array of supporters from around the world. Yet, AgriSol still plans to go ahead with this large-scale agricultural project to produce agrofuel and genetically modified crops for export from Tanzania.

Iowa-based Summit Group and Global Agriculture Fund of the Pharos Financial Group, in partnership with AgriSol Energy LLC and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, are developing a large agriculture enterprise in Tanzania. The site encompasses three “abandoned refugee camps”– Lugufu in Kigoma province (25,000 ha), Katumba (80,317 ha), and Mishamo (219,800 ha), both in Rukwa province.

The World Bank Group (WBG) promotes large-scale land investment in developing countries as a “win-win” situation where investors profit and “host” nations benefit from economic development, improved agricultural infrastructure, and employment opportunities. Since the 2008 food and financial crises, the number of land investment deals in developing countries has skyrocketed, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Oakland Institute’s (OI) investigation into over 50 land investments deals in seven African countries highlights the role played by a wide range of international development agencies, multilateral institutions, and so-called “socially responsible” investment funds. While using the language of aid organizations these institutions speak of “helping Africa feed itself,” “improved food security,” “livelihood creation,” and “sustainable environmental policies.” However a closer look at their agenda and policy prescriptions, and an investigation into the reality on the ground reveals otherwise. Even with growing evidence that the current African land grab is displacing small farmers, indigenous communities, and threatening food and water security, US and international development agencies continue to push for foreign agricultural land investment. This brief explores this issue further.

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