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“Land-grabbing” in Africa (1)

In what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era, rich countries are farming land on the continent for their own citizens while some Africans may go hungry, John Vidal reports.

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We turned off the main road to Awassa, talked our way past security guards and drove nearly two kilometres across empty land before we found what will soon be Ethiopia’s largest greenhouse. Nestling below an escarpment of the Rift Valley, the development is far from finished, but the plastic and steel structure already stretches over 20 hectares – the size of 20 football pitches.

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 500-metre rows in computer-controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tonnes of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 320 kilometres to Addis Ababa and flown 1,600 kilometres to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world, with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least three million hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

The 1,000 hectares of land that contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to US$2 billion acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50 million hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the United Kingdom – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies. The data used was collected by Grain, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Land Coalition (ILC), ActionAid and other non-governmental groups.

The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages that followed the sharp oil-price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union’s insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.

In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of “land grabbing”.

The experience of Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but who is in regular contact with farmers in his region, is typical. He said: “All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

“All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”

It is not known if the acquisitions will improve or worsen food security in Africa, or if they will stimulate separatist conflicts, but a major new World Bank report is expected to warn of both the potential benefits and the immense dangers they represent to people and nature.

Leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world’s cheapest land.

Together they are scouring Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land there, which investors have not been able to buy, is being leased for approximately US$1 per year per hectare.

Saudi Arabia, along with Middle Eastern emirate states such as Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, is thought to be the biggest buyer. In 2008 the Saudi government, which was one of the Middle East’s largest wheat-growers, announced it was to reduce its domestic cereal production by 12% a year to conserve its water. It earmarked US$5 billion to provide loans at preferential rates to Saudi companies that wanted to invest in countries with strong agricultural potential.

Meanwhile, the Saudi investment company Foras, backed by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and wealthy Saudi investors, plans to spend US$1 billion buying land and growing seven million tonnes of rice for the Saudi market within seven years. The company says it is investigating buying land in Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda. By turning to Africa to grow its staple crops, Saudi Arabia is not just acquiring Africa’s land but is securing itself the equivalent of hundreds of millions of litres of scarce water a year. Water, says the United Nations, will be the defining resource of the next 100 years.

Since 2008 Saudi investors have bought heavily in Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya. Last year the first sacks of wheat grown in Ethiopia for the Saudi market were presented by al-Amoudi to King Abdullah.

Some of the African deals lined up are eye-wateringly – enormously -- large: China has signed a contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow 2.8 million hectares of palm oil for biofuels. Before it fell apart after riots, a proposed 1.2-million-hectare deal between Madagascar and the South Korean company Daewoo would have included nearly half of the country’s arable land.

Land to grow biofuel crops is also in demand. “European biofuel companies have acquired or requested about 3.9 million hectares in Africa. This has led to displacement of people, lack of consultation and compensation, broken promises about wages and job opportunities,” said Tim Rice, author of an ActionAid report that estimates that the European Union needs to grow crops on 17.5 million hectares, well over half the size of Italy, if it is to meet its 10% biofuel target by 2015.

“The biofuel land grab in Africa is already displacing farmers and food production. The number of people going hungry will increase,” he said. British firms have secured tracts of land in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to grow flowers and vegetables.

Indian companies, backed by government loans, have bought or leased hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils to feed their domestic market.


NEXT: “Nowhere is out of bounds”


www.guardian.co.uk/

Copyright Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Homepage image from Catholic Relief Services
 

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匿名 | Anonymous

自由资本?

非洲传统的小农经济正在被资本打得落花流水,而我们也得考虑,为什么这些国家都甘愿被“奴役”,而把自己的农地拱手相让。

Free Capital?

Africa’s traditional peasant economy is now shattered to pieces by the capitals. And we have to consider why these countries are willing to be “enslaved” and submissively handing over their farmland.
(Translated by Jieping Hu.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

土地争夺只是噱头而已

文章观点不免偏激。
所谓的”土地争夺“,或者更吸引眼球的“土地攫取”,并不是一个什么特殊的概念。这种土地利用中性质的改变,在一国境内司空见惯,比方,将耕地变为了企业厂房用地,或将林地砍伐种粮,这种不同产业之间对于土地用途的争夺并不是什么新鲜事。
但如果事情发生在国与国之间,尤其是更为脆弱的非洲国家,似乎变成了吸引眼球的大事。实际上,我们都明白,提高农业产量的有效途径之一就是农业的规模化,而规模化离不开土地的集中。这种情况下如果再引入外资,那么所谓的“土地争夺”似乎就不可避免了。但单从经济上来看,这绝对无可厚非。
当然,这涉及不同利益群体之间的利益平衡问题,如何保证被征地农民从增长的利润中获取应得的权益,这才是问题的核心。这和中国国内对征地农民的补偿是一个性质的东西。而这方面,东道国政府,应该承担首先的责任。东道国政府是否尽到责任,这就是民主政治的问题了,和农业发展就扯不上关系了。
至于外国投资者,想必早已不是靠坚船利炮满世界搞自由贸易的旧时代殖民者了,不存在被迫割让土地的情况。有鉴于此,尽管我们可以要求外国投资时遵循必要的准则,但这无论如何与新旧殖民主义划不上等号。
如果明白了问题的实质,大家也就不用为一些敏感的主义而大打口水战了。

Land-grabbing is just a publicity stunt

The viewpoint in the article is unavoidably biased.
This so-called concept of "land-grabbing," or "land-seizing" (which is more attractive to the eyes) is nothing special. This kind of change in the use of land is commonly seen within a country, for example, turning farmland into land for factory buildings, or cutting down forests to plant grain. These different industries competing for the use of land is nothing new.
However, if this situation happens between countries, especially weaker African countries, it seems to attract attention. Actually, we all know that one of the effective ways of increasing agricultural production is to expand farming, which relies on the land. In this situation, if more foreign investments are introduced, then "land-grabbing" seems to be unavoidable. But from a financial point of view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Of course, this involves the balance of interests of different interest groups, how to ensure that these farmers facing land requisitions get the increasing profits they are entitled to is the key to the problem. This is the same thing as China's domestic farmers receiving compensation for land. In this regard, the host government should bear the most responsibility. Whether or not the host government has taken full responsibility, is a question of democracy and has nothing to do with agricultural development.
As for foreign investors, they presumably are no longer colonists of the old world trying to engage in free trade with gunboats everywhere and forcing others to give up land. In view of this, we can demand that foreign investments must follow the guidelines, but in any case, it cannot equate with the old and new colonialism.
If the essence of the problem was understood, we wouldn't have to have big debates about sensitive doctrines.