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Helping Africans or Grabbing Their Resources in 21st Century: Just Like 1884 and After June 12, 2013

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‘That African farming needs investment and support is indisputable. But does it need land grabbing? Yes, according to the deals these countries have signed. Mozambique, where local farmers have already been evicted from large tracts of land, is now obliged to write new laws promoting what its agreement calls “partnerships” of this kind. Ivory Coast must “facilitate access to land for smallholder farmers and private enterprises” – in practice evicting smallholder farmers for the benefit of private enterprises. Already French, Algerian, Swiss and Singaporean companies have lined up deals across 600,000 hectares or more of this country’s prime arable land. These deals, according to the development group Grain, “will displace tens of thousands of peasant rice farmers and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of small traders”. Ethiopia, where land grabbing has been accompanied by appalling human rights abuses, must assist “agriculture investors (domestic and foreign; small, medium and larger enterprises) to … secure access to land”. ‘

“One of the stated purposes of the Conference of Berlin in 1884 was to save Africans from the slave trade. To discharge this grave responsibility, Europe’s powers discovered, to their undoubted distress, that they would have to extend their control and ownership of large parts of Africa. In doing so, they accidentally encountered the vast riches of that continent, which had not in any way figured in their calculations, and found themselves in astonished possession of land, gold, diamonds and ivory. They also discovered that they were able to enlist the labour of a large number of Africans, who, for humanitarian reasons, were best treated as slaves. One of the stated purposes of the G8 conference, hosted by David Cameron next week, is to save the people of Africa from starvation. To discharge this grave responsibility, the global powers have discovered, to their undoubted distress, that their corporations must extend their control and ownership of large parts of Africa. As a result, they will find themselves in astonished possession of Africa’s land, seed and markets. David Cameron’s purpose at the G8, as he put it last month, is to advance “the good of people around the world”. Or, as Rudyard Kipling expressed it during the previous scramble for Africa: “To seek another’s profit, / And work another’s gain … / Fill full the mouth of Famine / And bid the sickness cease”. Who could doubt that the best means of doing this is to cajole African countries into a new set of agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets? The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which bears only a passing relationship to the agreements arising from the Conference of Berlin, will, according to the US agency promoting it, “lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth”. This “inclusive and sustained agricultural growth” will no longer be in the hands of the people who are meant to be lifted out of poverty. How you can have one without the other is a mystery that has yet to be decoded. But I’m sure the alliance’s corporate partners – Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé, Unilever, Itochu, Yara International and others – could produce some interesting explanations. The alliance offers African countries public and private money (the UK has pledged £395m of foreign aid) if they strike agreements with G8 countries and the private sector (in many cases multinational companies). Six countries have signed up so far. That African farming needs investment and support is indisputable. But does it need land grabbing? Yes, according to the deals these countries have signed. Mozambique, where local farmers have already been evicted from large tracts of land, is now obliged to write new laws promoting what its agreement calls “partnerships” of this kind. Ivory Coast must “facilitate access to land for smallholder farmers and private enterprises” – in practice evicting smallholder farmers for the benefit of private enterprises. Already French, Algerian, Swiss and Singaporean companies have lined up deals across 600,000 hectares or more of this country’s prime arable land. These deals, according to the development group Grain, “will displace tens of thousands of peasant rice farmers and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of small traders”. Ethiopia, where land grabbing has been accompanied by appalling human rights abuses, must assist “agriculture investors (domestic and foreign; small, medium and larger enterprises) to … secure access to land”. And how about seed grabbing? Yes, that too is essential to the wellbeing of Africa’s people. Mozambique is now obliged to “systematically cease distribution of free and unimproved seeds”, while drawing up new laws granting intellectual property rights in seeds that will “promote private sector investment”. Similar regulations must also be approved in Ghana, Tanzania and Ivory Coast. The countries that have joined the New Alliance will have to remove any market barriers that favour their own farmers. Where farmers comprise between 50% and 90% of the population, and where their livelihoods are dependent on the non-cash economy, these policies – which make perfect sense in the air-conditioned lecture rooms of the Chicago Business School – can be lethal. Strangely missing from New Alliance agreements is any commitment on the part of G8 nations to change their own domestic policies. These could have included farm subsidies in Europe and the US, which undermine the markets for African produce; or biofuel quotas, which promote world hunger by turning food into fuel. Any constraints on the behaviour of corporate investors in Africa (such as the Committee on World Food Security’s guidelines on land tenure) remain voluntary, while the constraints on host nations become compulsory. As in 1884, powerful nations make the rules and weak ones ones abide by them: for their own good, of course. The west, as usual, is able to find leaders in Africa who have more in common with the global elite than with their own people. In some of the countries that have joined the New Alliance, there were wide-ranging consultations on land and farming, whose results have been now ignored in the agreements with the G8. The deals between African governments and private companies were facilitated by the World Economic Forum, and took place behind closed doors. But that’s what you have to do when you’re dealing with “new-caught, sullen peoples, / Half devil and half child”, who perversely try to hang on to their own land, their own seeds and their own markets. Even though David Cameron, Barack Obama and the other G8 leaders know it isn’t good for them.’george Monbiot.” A fully version of this text can be found at:

Monbiot.com and  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/10/african-hunger-help-g8-grab?CMP=twt_gu

http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/u-s-malaysia-lead-worldwide-land-grabs/

http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20Editorials/2013/July/1%20o/The%20G8’s%20Commercial%20Colonization%20of%20Africa%20By%20Graham%20Peebles.htm

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Land grabbing deals in Africa have led to a wild west and intensified food insecurity October 29, 2012

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Land deals in  Africa  have led to a wild west that undermined food security – bring on the sheriff, says FAO

“True grit … FAO director general José Graziano da Silva wants major land acquisitions curbed to protect the poor. Amid warnings that land deals are undermining food security, the head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)   has compared “land grabs” in Africa to the “wild west”, saying a “sheriff” is needed to restore the rule of  law.  José Graziano da Silva, conceded it was not possible to stop large investors buying land, but said deals in poor countries needed to be brought under control.” The Guardian

Large land deals have accelerated since the surge in food prices in 2007-08, prompting companies and sovereign wealth funds to take steps to guarantee food supplies. But, four to five years on, in Africa only 10-15% of land is actually being developed, claimed Graziano da Silva. Some of these investments have involved the loss of jobs, as labour intensive farming is replaced by mechanised farming or some degree of loss of tenure rights.

Oxfam said the global land rush is out of control and urged the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop.“In some areas of Africa – Mozambique and South Africa – there is scope for large farms, but this approach is only valid for some grains, where the entire cycle is mechanical,” he said. “But this is not suitable for fruits, vegetables or many other local products. Cassava has nothing to do with mechanized agriculture and efficiency does not mean big scale. It’s the way you combine crops, the use of water you have available. In Africa today, efficiency means better seeds rather than big tractors. The two models have been there forever in agriculture. Sometimes big-scale will provide exports, but local markets are based on small-scale agriculture.”

Graziano da Silva, who was in charge of Brazil’s widely praised “zero hunger” programme, expressed his frustration at the slow pace of creating a global governance structure to deal with land grabs, food security and similar problems. In 2008, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, created a high-level task force on food security on which Graziano Da Silva serves as vice-chairman.

In May, the committee on world food security (CFS), a UN-led group that includes governments, business and civil society, laid the groundwork for a governance structure for food by endorsing voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests.

Tenure has important implications for development, as it is difficult for poor and vulnerable people to overcome hunger and poverty when they have limited and insecure rights to land and other natural resources. But the guidelines took years to negotiate and lack an effective enforcement mechanism because they are voluntary. The CFS is an unwieldy group but has the virtue of inclusivity.

“It took two years to discuss the voluntary guidelines and now we face another two years of negotiations on the principles for responsible agricultural investments,” said Graziano da Silva. “We need to speed up the decison-making process without losing the inclusivity model.”

The FAO director general said he is doing his best to bring about more co-ordination among the different institutions concerned with food security and suggests the FAO act like an executive arm of the CFS, trying to implement its decisions.

Others share his frustrations. Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, acknowledges the importance of the CFS voluntary guidelines, but points out the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism. He argues that governments in sub-Sahran Africa or south-east Asia with poor governance, or tainted by corruption, will continue to seek to attract investors at all costs.

“The international community should accept it has a role in monitoring whether the rights of land users, as stipulated in the guidelines, are effectively respected,” De Schutter told the Guardian. “Since there is no ‘sheriff’ at global level to achieve  this, at the very least, the home states of  investors should exercise due diligence in ensuring that private investors over which they can exercise control fully respect the rights of land users. Export credit agencies, for example, should make their support conditional upon full compliance with the guidelines, and in the future, the rights of investors under investment treaties   made conditional upon the investors acting   in accordance with  the guidelines.”

For Graziano da Silva, the key is the implementation of the voluntary guidelines at country level; he is encouraged by growing public interest and awareness of the issue. He points to Uruguay as an example of a government prepared to stand up to international land investors – “perhaps the best sheriff” on land deals.

“They have very good laws on land acquisitions,” he said, but acknowledged that most countries where land grabbing takes place have little consultation with farmer organisations or have weak or repressive governments.

As for the perennial debate on the respective merits of large and small-scale farming, the FAO boss said Africa had room for both, adding that Brazil had managed it.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/oct/29/land-deals-africa-wild-west-fao

Why poverty:The great land rush in Mali

Copyright © Oromianeconomist 2012 and Oromia Quarterly 1997-2012. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.