Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Publications
Recently dubbed “Africa’s Lion” (in allusion to the discourse around “Asian Tigers”), Ethiopia is celebrated for its steady economic growth, including a growing number of millionaires compared to other African nations. However, as documented in previous research by the Oakland Institute, the Ethiopian government’s “development strategy,” is founded on its policy of leasing millions of hectares (ha) of land to foreign investors. Implementation of this strategy involves human rights violations including coerced displacement, political repression, and neglect of local livelihoods, and places foreign and political interests above the rights and needs of local populations, especially ethnic groups who have historically been marginalized and neglected by the government.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) intervention in developing countries’ national policies, through aid conditionality and austerity programs known as Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs), triggered a wave of global resistance against the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). in the face of growing criticism that these policies increased poverty, debt, and dependency on rich countries, saps were eventually withdrawn in 2002; however the World Bank, through renewed means, continues to pursue and impose its neoliberal agenda on the developing world.
From rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the current obsession for agricultural land borders on speculative mania as private companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign wealth funds join the land rush looking for lucrative deals in the developing world. An estimated 500 million acres, an area about ten times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased in the developing world in the last decade. The social, economic, and environmental impacts of this trend have been extensively researched and made public by the Oakland Institute.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Foreign direct investment in the country has more than doubled in past years, and the World Bank has been actively promoting foreign investment in the agricultural sector despite the numerous health, social, and environmental problems associated with industrial plantations in Nicaragua. One of the most damaging activities is the production of sugarcane for ethanol. The crop is in high demand, as is the manual labor for cutting cane, but the rise of sugarcane production comes at a steep cost in terms of human lives.
Established in 1944 with the objective of reducing poverty, the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance as well as advisory services to enhance development in poor and transitioning countries. Despite its praiseworthy goals, the World Bank’s activities and undue influence over policy making in developing countries have come under heavy criticism over the years. Countless protests have denounced the Bank’s neoliberal agenda, which includes unfair conditionality policies, austerity measures that deny people’s right to healthcare or education, support for environmentally destructive projects, and sham debt relief.
Senhuile-Senéthanol, an agribusiness company, has been setting up agro-industrial plantations in the Saint-Louis region of northwest Senegal since July 2010. Owned by a complex maze of companies and individuals with ties to numerous countries around the world, including Italy, United States, Brazil, and Panama, the company holds a lease for 20,000 hectares of land. From the very inception of the project, Senhuile-Senéthanol has faced stiff resistance from local populations.
Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages and over 600 islands. Among its many natural treasures, a unique asset is its rainforest, the third largest in the world and home to endangered wildlife, plants, and diverse groups of people. Yet a massive land rush is currently taking place in the country. In recent years, 12 percent of the country, 5.5 million hectares, has been leased out to foreign corporations.
Harvard University invests large sums of its $32.7 billion endowment in natural resources, including timber plantations, in the developing world. This includes Empresas Verdes Argentinas Sociedad Anonima (EVASA) and Las Misiones, two timber companies that are jointly worth $55.2 million and own 87,884 hectares with pine and eucalyptus plantations in the Iberá Wetlands of northern Argentina.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, a robust citizen movement to protect local economies from the impacts of chain stores swept across the nation. One ardent spokesperson, writing in a 1929 issue of Harper’s magazine, argued that “chain stores represent a sort of absentee landlordism. On our Main Street, and on thousands of other Main Streets, there is a situation where policies are dictated and standards are set by men who have possibly never seen our town.”