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World News: African Land Grab

June 14, 2011

By Gary Cotton

Sources: CNNCBSModern GhanaThe GuardianDaily Nation (Kenya)BBC


An Oakland Institute report claims large land deals in Africa are displacing hundreds of thousands of farmers.


A new report by the Oakland Institute claims to have uncovered a series of international deals it says are leading to the displacement of (quote) “hundreds of thousands” of African farmers.

The report, by the American research firm as “left-leaning,” spells out land purchases equaling the size of France and it claims these large tracts of land are being bought for surprisingly little.

“Over and over again I was told that it was very easy to secure land, Zambia is a country where 94 percent of the country is under customary rights. If you are a foreign investor and you want to secure land you have to get the permission of the chief. You get a bottle of Johnnie Walker, kneel down, clap three times, and make your offer of Johnnie Walker whiskey.”


Liquor for land? According to a writer for CBS, there’s a little more to it than that--but not much.

“While the report does not claim the deals break any laws per se, it does strongly insinuate the local population does not reap anything near the promised benefits ... [the deals] often come with incentives for speculators ranging from unlimited water, oil and timber rights to tax waivers”

So who are the buyers? Modern Ghana outs some familiar names.


“Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland”


But Christian Aid journalist Rachel Baird isn’t surprised with the report. The Guardian published a letter by Baird saying, in many parts of the world “land-grabbing” is all too easy.


“Investors are benefiting from the massive imbalance of power between themselves and families living in poverty in rural Africa, who often lack legal titles to the land on which they grow food, let alone the means to demand consultation or challenge their eviction."



But a writer for Daily Nation counters the attacks on land buyers, saying the “land grab” may not be as bad as it seems. He writes, the deals are all part of a larger, positive plan for the region.


“It is wrong to claim that such investments will only help promote food exports at the expense of local needs. … Such claims ignore Africa’s determination to harness emerging technologies to promote agricultural development. The efforts are being promoted as part of larger strategies to stimulate economic transformation.”



And Investors are riding that sentiment, denying they are causing any harm. In fact, they say, they’re doing just the opposite. One company told BBC...



“They are extremely happy with us ... He said that in Mozambique the company's employees earned salaries 40% higher than the minimum wage ...The company was also involved in development projects such as the supply of clean water to rural communities.”



So, cheap land for clean water and better salaries- some call that a fair trade. But some African leaders suggest that trade will never happen. Obang Metho of the Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia said,


“No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security … These land grab agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors.”