Mittal and Mousseau Discuss Land Acquisition
Correction: A previous version of this article stated, “Mittal described the land grab situation in Tanzania, where U.S. investors, including Tom Harkin, an Iowa senator, bought large amounts of land. Soil sampling and other tests were done by Iowa State University.” In fact, Tom Harkin is not involved.
Anuradha Mittal and Frederic Mousseau of the Oakland Institute spoke Wednesday evening about farmland investment in the southern hemisphere at an event hosted at the Black Community Services Center.
Mittal and Mousseau are the executive director and policy director, respectively, at the Oakland Institute, a local policy think-tank. Particular emphasis was given to current “land grab” deals in Ethiopia and other African countries, which threaten to displace hundreds of thousands of people.
Isabella Akker ’13 began planning the talk this past summer and contacted the Oakland Institute for their expertise. The event was headed by the ASSU Food Cabinet and co-sponsored by the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI).
“It’s a matter of awareness,” Akker said.
Akker added that many students from the University go on into investment and hedge fund management and should thus be aware of “what investment in agriculture can involve.”
Large scale land acquisition involves countries with large populations, such as China, South Korea and India, buying productive farm land in the southern hemisphere, namely South America and Africa, to farm their food.
The event started with a video about the current situation of African farmland, showing interviews of local farmers who had been told to dismantle their homes and vacate the land. They were unaware of the land grab deals until an Oakland Institute report surfaced in June.
The report found that the land was rented out at 25 cents per acre and that leases spanned up to 99 years. Comparable land prices in Europe and America were in the thousands of dollars per acre.
Mittal described the land grab situation in Tanzania, where U.S. investors bought large amounts of land. Soil sampling and other tests were done by Iowa State University.
After the Oakland Institute report in June, Iowa State began investigations into its role in facilitating the land deal. Residents of the bought land were refugees from Burundi who lived on the land for over 40 years. They were promised citizenship in return for vacating the land. Approximately 160,000 people were affected.
Similar land deals have occurred in Sudan, Zambia and primarily Ethiopia, where 13 million people are now dependent on food aid. The government of Ethiopia plans on selling an additional seven million hectares of land.
“Food goes in and food goes out,” Mittal said.
Mousseau spoke about the “myth of development.” During the land acquisition process, investors held community meetings with the local farmers, promising education, food and water. No official contracts were produced from the meetings.
“You’ve all seen Avatar,” Mousseau said. “That’s what these people are facing today.”
Mousseau claimed that there is greater potential in countries investing in their lands rather than selling them.
“We’ve seen the farmers’ ability to improve productivity,” he said.
Mittal and Mousseau both brought up University investment in the land acquisitions of South American and Africa. According to Mittal and Mousseau, Harvard made a recent large investment in a land acquisition deal in Africa. Harvard’s finance club is meeting in November to discuss the issue. Other universities with investment in land acquisition include Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins.
Mittal also encouraged attendees to write letters to companies like AgriSol that are involved with land acquisition. She stated thousands of letters have been sent to the prime minister of Tanzania and to U.S. senators regarding the Tanzania land grab deal, including one from the Sierra Club on behalf of its members.
Both Mittal and Mousseau emphasized the importance of student involvement. Mittal particularly stressed increasing awareness of the deals and who exactly is involved.
“Keep shining the light,” she said.