Investor Land Deals Exploiting Africa, Report Alleges
* Refugees displaced by investors
* $2 per hectare land deals cited
* Biofuel production at expense of food
By Carey Gillam and Richard Valdmanis
KANSAS CITY, Mo. and DAKAR, June 8 (Reuters) - Wealthy U.S. and European investors are accumulating large swaths of African agricultural lands in deals that have little accountability and give them greater control over food supply for the world's poor, according to a report released Wednesday.
Along with hedge funds and speculators, some U.S. public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40 percent, according to the report by Oakland Institute, a think tank in California. (Link:here)
While investors find rewards in the arable African soils, some of the deals displace local residents in poor African communities, the report charged.
A large share of land deals are aimed at biofuel production, taking away land from food production. And some deals shield investors from accountability even as they acquire precious land for next to nothing, the report alleged.
"This is very, very scary," said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of Oakland Institute.
With funding from such foundations as the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Oakland Institute researchers spent more than a year working undercover to gather information on land investment deals in seven African countries such as Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.
Institute officials said they are not opposed to agricultural investments in Africa, which they agree are needed to increase food production.
But they hope that by exposing negative aspects of certain deals, they can curb "blind support" for expanded industrial agriculture on the continent
They said there are lax or no job creation requirements for many of these investments, land costs are cheap or, at least in one cited example, free. Water rights are granted broadly, and many foreign investors are not required to honor labor and environmental rights.
"Investment in agriculture is very important, but the question is what kind of investment," said Mittal.