Land Deals under the Spotlight in
The article below was published in Third World Resurgence #250, June 2011, and is reproduced here with permission.
Land Deals under the Spotlight in
As foreign investors continue to make more forays
Chee Yoke Heong
SWATHES of land in
Lured by the prospects of high returns and attractive incentives offered by African governments, foreign and domestic investors are buying or leasing land across the continent as a means to secure land to grow food for markets back home, engage in export commodity production or merely for speculation. In return, the investors offer to provide jobs and development to the areas they have acquired.
But instead of bringing hope to the local population,
large-scale unregulated investment in land in
Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern parties may
have been actively buying up land in
European firms are also involved, often with support
from their governments. Swedish and German firms have strong interests
in the production of biofuels in
'The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the world's food supply,' said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute. She warns that the conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and accelerate climate change.
The justifications put forward by the governments
of Africa, investors and international institutions for the large-scale
leasing and sale of lands are that investment is needed to modernise
But the Oakland Institute study, which covers seven African countries, confirms many existing findings which show that large-scale land acquisitions do not necessarily produce the promised benefits for local populations. The investors, government officials and the local elites are among those who would gain most from the leasing and sale of land, with limited positive impacts on the livelihoods of the local communities.
This situation is attributed to the land policies and generous fiscal incentives which facilitate what has come to be known as 'land grabbing', as investors - foreign, domestic and diaspora - cash in on the very attractive investment climate.
For instance, contracts for large-scale agricultural
These prices are a bargain for the investors but they do not provide greater incomes for the host governments. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also shown that generous tax incentives aimed at attracting foreign investors in developing countries will only reduce much-needed tax revenues for the government without promoting growth.
The Oakland Institute study further shows how
local economies are negatively impacted where investments took over
land from active and productive businesses and farms. An example is
the case of women farmers in
Agriculture investments were supposed to improve
food security of the countries targeted by the investors but instead
many small farmers are being forced out of their lands and small and
local food farms had to make way for export commodities such as biofuel
crops and cut flowers. In
Instead of developing marginal or infertile land, most land deals take place near water resources offering irrigation potential, on fertile soils and close to infrastructure such as railroads and railways. They tap into major African rivers, hence controlling not only the land but also the water resources. Because water is available either without restriction or at extremely low costs, this raises major questions over the impact this will have on the rest of the area and on the rivers themselves and how they will provide for the needs of other users.
The land investments are also controversial in
their immediate impact on the lives of local communities and smallholders.
The construction of a canal resulted in massive disruption in the region
of Kolongo in
As to whether land investment will create jobs as touted by its proponents, the Oakland Institute research finds that in the countries it covers, the promises of job creation are often overstated or have yet to materialise.
Tomoyo Group has leased 100,000 ha of land on
the western border of Malibya in
Addax Bioenergy in
The lack of transparency and the violation of human rights in these land deals are matters of concern. While investors have benefited from extensive assistance and fiscal incentives from the government and international organisations, any opposition to the land deals has largely been ignored or repressed.
There is almost no transparency regarding land investment negotiations and agreements. In the countries covered by the study, villagers on the acquired land are usually not informed or consulted, or adequately compensated if at all. The non-recognition of the rights of local villagers to their land is one reason why they are not able to claim compensation. In some cases they are regarded as 'squatters' and forcibly removed to make way for the takeover of the land by investors.
'It was with bulldozers that they [the investors]
consulted with the smallholders,' says Ibrahim Coulibaly, president
of the National Coordination of Smallholder Organisations (CNOP) in
In Samana Dugu in
In many agreements, the investors are required to produce Environmental Impact Assessments and/or Social Impact Assessments. Based on the findings of the Oakland Institute study, these assessments are often not carried out or, if they are done, the non-binding nature of the requirements and their lack of enforcement allow investors to ignore the health of the ecosystems and the welfare of the local populations.
Given all these problems, the promotion of land investment raises important questions regarding who benefits from these investments. Unless they are addressed and principles of good governance are adhered to, the study stresses, the situation is ripe for social, economic and political fallouts.
Chee Yoke Heong is a researcher with the