Activists claim out-of-control Africa land-grabbing

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Two reports contend that developed country money is being used to encourage the take-over or virtual theft of African land by outsider companies and investment groups.

“The World Bank is facilitating land grabs and sowing poverty by putting the interests of foreign investors before those of locals,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based think tank. Mittal also spoke with the backing of /The Rule (/TR), a global network of activists who have the goal to redistribute power in favor of “the marginalized and impoverished.”

At the same time as the Oakland Institute and /TR issued its statements, the World Development Movement (WDM) issued a report claiming United Kingdom money aid and  the G8-sponsored “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition” is going to help big businesses and land investors increase their profits in Africa.

Nick Dearden, director of the WDM, said, “It’s scandalous that UK aid money is being used to carve up Africa in the interests of big business. This is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is support to small-scale farmers and fairer distribution of land and resources to give African countries more control over their food systems.

“Africa can produce enough food to feed its people. The problem is that our food system is geared to the luxury tastes of the richest, not the needs of ordinary people. Here the British government is using aid money to make the problem even worse.”

The belief that small farmers can produce enough to feed the growing population of Africa and Asia headed toward 9 billion people by 2050 is the contention of each of the activist groups.

“Small holder farmers and herders are currently feeding 80 percent of the developing world. Casting them aside in favor of industrial farming corporations from the West betrays the World Banks’s reckless and short term approach to development,” said Alnoor Ladha, executive director of /TR.

The Oakland Institute and /TR are into blaming the G8 nations (G7 with Russia kicked out) and funding from the Gates Foundation as putting together a program—“Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA). The activists claim the BBA’s explicit goal is to promote “the emergence of a stronger commercial agriculture sector” in Africa.

The WDM consistent with Oakland Institute and /TR see African countries being forced to change their laws, making it easier for corporations to acquire large tracts of farmland, control the supply of seeds and ship agriculture produce to other parts of the world. Everything combined is seen as “increasing land-grabbing, higher costs for small-scale farmers and the prioritization of crops for export instead of to feed local populations.”

Oakland Institute and /TR pointed to examples. “Thanks to reforms and policies guided by the (World) Bank, Sierra Leone has taken 20 percent of its arable land from rural populations and leased it to foreign sugar cane and palm oil producers. And in Liberia … palm-oil giants have secured long-term leases for over 1.5 million acres of land formerly held by local communities.”

All of these arguments are based on the theories that small landowners would be able to produce as much as organized production even though the smaller operators will have to proceed without modernizations of farming practices and inputs. Additionally, production using biotechnology by small land owners would be a slap to the face of the activists.   

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Kevin Daugherty    
Indiana  |  April, 02, 2014 at 08:22 AM

I have been working on developing country land registration systems for 20 years. The problem is not with funding, it is a matter of establishing policy within the country to limit the size of single owner land parcels, or at a minimum have data to indicate the owner and size, and other data. The technology is there is inventory and assess all land, be it forest, agriculture, environmentally sensitive, public land, etc. DfID and WB are helping countries with land administration, and the systems which enable governments to monitor land ownership. The problem is not the funding, it is the policy and laws established by each donor recipient.

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