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Who’s Grabbing Africa’s Land?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 8:37 pm Reply with quote
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Who’s Grabbing Africa’s Land? U.S. Speculators, Including Universities

by Michelle Chen
Friday, July 29 2011, 9:22

When a massive tire corporation rolled into Nigeria’s Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve a few years ago, just one thing stood in the path of the CEOs’ plans to set up a rubber plantation: the communities that lived there. With cruel precision, the communities that got in the way were uprooted and displaced, their farmland devastated. As documented by Friends of the Earth International, the bulldozers of the French conglomerate Michelin sowed the ground for “increased hunger, malnutrition, poverty and forced migration, as food became harder to find or produce.”

“It was as if there was no reason to live again,” recalled a local woman. “Now, no land, no farm, no food.”

Land, farm, food—some of the few things that all societies hold sacrosanct, yet also some of the hottest commodities in financial markets. Land is up for grabs across the Global South, and U.S. investors are getting in on the action.

New research by the Oakland Institute, which monitors global agricultural trends, suggests that transnational land grabs in Africa—including Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Sudan—are setting up a repeat of the 2007-2008 food-price crisis, which was fueled by a blend of financial, political and environmental factors.

“We see really vertical integration and control of the markets [by investors] who will be able to both influence prices and also decide on what the production will be,” warns Oakland Institute Policy Director Frederic Mousseau. “We have the food chain, which is pervasively and quite rapidly in recent years being under the control of financial groups.

China and Arab countries have generally been scrutinized in the media for their land deals, but much of the cash flow comes through U.S. and European investors, according to Oakland Institute—through established pension funds, agribusiness behemoths and even educational institutions.

Oakland Institute’s report on land-grabbing in Africa calls out several universities for their ties to land-grabbing.

Investors include not only alternative investment firms like the London-based Emergent Asset Management that works to attract speculators—including universities such as Harvard, who have maintained secrecy on such potentially unpopular activities, Spelman and Vanderbilt—with a primary motivation of economic access to agricultural land that will have high returns for the endowment.

Several Texas-based interests are associated with a major 600,000 hectares south Sudan deal which involves Kinyeti Development, LLC., an Austin, Texas, based “global business development partnership and holding company,” managed by Howard Eugene Douglas, a former United States ambassador at large and coordinator for refugee affairs.

For these investors, it’s just another lucrative transaction. An Emergent spokesperson, for instance, told the Guardian in June, “This is not landgrabbing. We want to make the land more valuable. Being big makes an impact, economies of scale can be more productive.”“

Being big does make an impact, but generally not the one that’s promised. Land is the object of a violent, but often unnecessary, tug of war between development and sustainability.

At the same time, multinational investors bank on humanitarian rhetoric by wrapping their land deals in the banner of “trade not aid.” But the land bubble in many ways poses greater danger than did the U.S. real estate boom: at stake are the fates of indigenous communities and the sovereignty of whole nations.

It’s also hard not to draw parallels with European colonialism. But the International Land Coalition, an NGO alliance, says “the new scramble for Africa” is taking place today on a far more complex political and environmental terrain.

One modern aspect to the new scramble is the expanding market in biofuel crops, which have been blamed for undermining and displacing traditional food crops—not to mention their role in creating water scarcity, global climate change and population pressures.

And while symmetrical land deals do carry the racial baggage of imperial history, land reform has also been a continual struggle since independence within many African countries. It has too often yielded policies that deepen existing patterns of segregation and inequality and encourage the displacement of farming communities that lack formal landholder status. That’s in part because land is a critical bargaining chip for political leaders who are courting foreign capital after years of failed development and agrarian reform initiatives. As ILC explains, “these acquisitions sit well with the new thinking among African political leaders frustrated by patronizing aid dependency and keen to forge relationships of trade with the developed world.”

But if parceling out prime real estate helps governments capture new investment, the land itself and its traditional stewards are withering away. Ecologically, the ILC says, “There is limited or no capacity in these countries to control or deter pollution of the air, soils, and groundwater by the heavy chemicals likely to be used in these ventures. Such pollution will add to the burdens of poor environmental health that rural populations already bear in many of these countries.” The use of aggressive industrial farming methods and genetically modified crops may further destabilize rural communities, since “many of these countries lack the capacity to effectively police the type of large-scale technological production envisaged over the large areas of land involved.”

Mousseau adds that despite promises of building new infrastructure and encouraging trade, the commodification of land portends the destruction of more sustainable, small-scale agriculture. “What they are bringing is what is required for industrial farming in large-scale plantations,” he explains. “Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia aren’t going to suddenly learn to drive a tractor and ride a tractor. It’s really about buying land in Africa.”

It’s too late to grab back the thousands of hectares already lost to global markets, but hundreds of civil society groups recently tried at least to reclaim the debate on land grabbing. Ahead of a G20 conference of agricultural ministers, the coalition rejected the centrist reform proposals for controlling agricultural investment and called on the United Nations World Food Program’s Committee on Food Security to “develop effective mandatory guidelines for land tenure that respect and protect peoples’ rights especially the right to food.”

Still, declaring a right is one thing; securing food in a wild global marketplace is another.

A report by Friends of the Earth International highlights examples of actions communities have taken to protect food systems from corporate predation. In Argentina, for instance, small farmers have staved off the the destructive impacts of monocultures like tobacco by encouraging more ecologically sustainable, traditional farm practices, supplemented by an agritourism initiative that markets local products.

In other regions, though, grassroots solutions are losing ground in the race to buy up rich soil in poor nations. This month, violent clashes in Nuagaon village in Odisha, India exploded as locals demonstrated against plans to build a giant steel plant, which is projected to displace thousands of families. To protect the “development” plans of the Korea-based firm POSCO, police reportedly arrested and brutalized demonstrators, not even sparing children and the elderly. Civil rights activist Mahtab Alam reported, “They are ready to give their lives but not their land for the project.”

Sadly, corporate investors seem willing to sacrifice both more lives and more land for their projects—just another cost of doing business on the new global frontier.[/img]

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The myths surrounding the global rush for farmland
PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:22 am Reply with quote
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The myths surrounding the global rush for farmland

Posted by John Vidal
Friday 14 October 2011 12.18 BST

Governments and companies involved in leasing land claim it is little used and that the projects will bring food security, create jobs and boost tax revenues – none of which is true

Farm workers tend young plants at the palm oil plantation owned by the Indian company Karuturi
near the town of Bako in Ethiopia. Photograph: Jose Cendon/Getty

For a few thousands dollars a year, an Indian agribusiness, Karuturi, rents 2,500 sq km of land in Ethiopia's Gambela province. Government ministers in Addis Ababa claim it is marginal, unused land, and its situation at the far western border with Sudan suggests this is so.

In fact, the black soil is extremely fertile, the vast landholding is accessible by a good road, and, above all, the land borders the mighty river Baro, a tributary of the Nile. It is prime land in one Africa's least exploited regions. Karuturi's owners, who are planning to grow palm oil, cotton, vegetables and maize there, only had to look at a good map to understand its real value.

But, say Oxfam researchers, it is one of the four great myths built up by governments and companies that most of the 100m hectares of land allocated in the last few years by governments in Africa and Asia to foreign agribusinesses, pension funds or speculators is "marginal" or little used.

"Despite claims to the contrary, investors target the best lands," say the researchers. "They seek land with access to water resources, fertile soil, infrastructure and proximity to markets to facilitate the profitability and viability of their ventures. The large-scale projects tend to be located where most people live. Further analysis shows that these are also the places where poverty rates are relatively lower and where land was already in use for food production – rather than it being empty, unused, marginal land in poor regions."

The second myth is that the projects will help bring food security and energy security. Research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania has found that most of the deals being struck are for export commodities, including biofuels and cut flowers. In Mozambique, where about 35% of households are chronically food insecure, a mere 32,000 hectares out of the 433,000 approved for agriculture investment between 2007 and 2009 were for food crops.

"Unrestricted export clauses in contracts, together with small-scale food producers losing their key productive asset, may well worsen rather than improve food security," says the report. "Moreover, investors' short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation practices, undermining agricultural production in the long-term. The research also shows that current costs of producing biofuels are prohibitive for African countries, meaning that raw materials must be exported to US or European markets to be economically viable."

The third myth being encouraged by host governments is that the projects will create jobs. In fact, analysis of the contracts, shows that local employment generation requirements are absent from contracts and rarely materialise in practice. "Jobs appear to be few, short-lived, seasonal and low-paid.

Surveys and analysis of agro-investment in west Africa show that very few jobs were created for local people, while pastoralists and women – who rely upon the land, trees and water in common areas for economic activities – were suffering as a result of reduced access.

The fourth myth is that the projects will bring tax revenues. What really happens, says Oxfam, is that governments "actually forfeit benefits by offering tax incentives in the race for investment finance. In 2008, the government of Pakistan offered 'tax exemptions, duty-free equipment imports, and 100% land ownership in special free zones in its agriculture, livestock and dairy sectors', in a bid to attract foreign investors.

"Income tax is usually only payable once the investment project becomes profitable. Even if the host government has not forfeited benefits through tax incentives, it often lacks the capacity or the political will to regulate and monitor the investment, enforce the terms of the contract, or collect taxes."

The World Bank, the International Institute for Environment and Development, and Oxfam's research in Africa all found that taxes were rarely collected.

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Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush
PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:58 am Reply with quote
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Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush

Locals move out as international contractors seize opportunities offered by government to lease farmland at knockdown rates

John Vidal in Gambella, Ethiopia
The Guardian, Monday 21 March 2011

It's the deal of the century: £150 a week to lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset – for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in.

Karuturi snapped it up, and next year the company, one of the world's top 25 agri-businesses, will export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province – a remote region near the Sudan border – to world markets.

Ethiopia is one of the world's largest recipients of humanitarian food and development assistance, last year receiving more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid, but it has offered three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of virgin land to foreign corporations such as Karuturi.

"It's very good land. It's quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India," says Karmjeet Sekhon, project manager for what is expected to be one of Africa's largest farms. "There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don't need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it.

"To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. "This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here."

Sparsely-populated Gambella is at the centre of the global rush for cheap land, precipitated by the oil price rise in 2007/2008, when many countries racked by food riots encouraged their farmers to invest abroad to grow food.

The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including Friends of the Earth International, say the figure is higher. The Ethiopian government says 36 countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land there.

Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.

This month the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season.

Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region's rich wildlife.

Local government officers have denied claims that people are being forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.

"This year we will relocate 15,000 people to give them better access to water, schools and transport. [But] it is a coincidence that the investors are coming at the same time as the villages are being relocated," said Kassahun Zerrfu from Gambella's department for investment.

"We are not relocating people to give land to the investors. The problem is there is no infrastructure where they have lived. It's all voluntary."

Under the government's "villagisation" programme, three or four villages at a time are being moved closer to roads and services, but many people say they are not being compensated and are having to wait. "We were promised a school, a health clinic and fresh water eight months ago. We only have one water pump so far," said Udul Ujulu, chief of Karmi village, a new village of 250 people nine miles outside Gambella town.

Others displaced by new farms said they were scared for their lives if they complained. "What power do we have to stop them? We just stay silent," said one farmer told to move off his land.

"There is no movement of population. It's their choice to have these basic services. But they have to abandon their previous way of life," said farm minister Wondirad Mandefro.

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Who’s Grabbing Africa’s Land?
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