Land Grab in Africa

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More than 1,000 large-scale foreign land deals are now under contract for agriculture covering more than 26 million hectares of land, according to the new report by Land Matrix Initiative.

Land Grab Update: Mozambique, Africa Still in the Crosshairs

On October 12, the government of Mozambique quietly announced that it would close its Agriculture Promotion Centre (CEPAGRI), the agency created in 2006 to promote large-scale foreign investment in the country’s agricultural sector. In a terse statement, government spokesman Mouzinho Saide gave no reason for the closure, saying only that its functions would be subsumed under a different agency in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Longtime Mozambique analyst Joseph Hanlon was not so shy, reporting in his October 18 Mozambique News Report that CEPAGRI was finished because those large-scale projects it was supposed to broker: “none of them have succeeded.”

Hyperbole aside, Mozambique’s grand visions of foreign capital modernizing its agricultural sector have indeed proven grandiose. Nowhere is this clearer than in the rich Nacala Corridor in northern Mozambique, where the ProSavana project promoted by Brazil, Japan, and Mozambique was going to transform 35 million hectares—nearly 100 million acres—into soybean plantations modeled on Brazil’s cerrado region.

Brazilian agribusinessmen walked away, seeing land that was hardly “unoccupied,” resistance from the communities occupying that land, and poor infrastructure to get any product to its intended markets in China and Japan. ProSavana lives on in name at least—and as an ongoing threat to farmers in the region—but so far, the project’s largest product is hubris. (See my previous articles here and here.)

But is land-grabbing over, in Mozambique and across Africa and the rest of the developing world? Now that crop and food prices have returned to their usual punishingly low levels, is the pressure off from foreign buyers looking to acquire large tracts of agricultural lands?

Not according to new data from the Land Matrix Initiative, which has been tracking such deals since the land rush took off in 2007. A large number of formerly announced deals have failed to materialize, as with ProSavana, but many that remain are now under contract and coming into production.

Land-grabbing: myth and reality

More than 1,000 large-scale foreign land deals are now under contract for agriculture covering more than 26 million hectares of land, according to the new report, “Land Matrix Analytical Report II: International Land Deals for Agriculture.” That area represents a remarkable two percent of arable land in the world. Nearly three-quarters of the projects have now begun production on some of the land.

Africa remains the largest target for land grabs, accounting for 42 percent of global deals with 10 million hectares under contract. Mozambique now ranks 18th among all target countries in area under contract, with 500,000 hectares in 60 concluded deals. That puts the country, which in the 2012 report was a top target in Africa, well behind Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Sudan, which have the most on the continent.

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Water grab in Africa

Photo credit: CGIAR-WLE

Irrigation on an urban farm in GhanaPhoto Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/ IWMI

The great African water grab?

By James Clarke

Foreign direct investment in African agriculture could bring great benefits, but there are risks too.

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” Mark Twain’s famous remark may be over a century old, but the allure of a patch of earth to call your own still remains potent.

Nowhere is this more true than in sub-Saharan Africa where, for many, land ownership is still seen as the key to a secure income. Against a bitter history of colonial appropriation in many countries, the lure of land still stirs deep emotions. Many African governments have tried to address historic grievances, but the results have been mixed. African agriculture remains in the doldrums, chronically underproductive by global standards.

So the news that foreign money is now pouring into African agriculture should be welcome. Investors are leasing land all over the continent with the intention of creating modern farms with high crop yields. It could be a win-win: bringing in new technology and infrastructure, creating jobs and boosting food supplies. Instead it is more commonly characterized as a “land grab” – a cynical attempt to further exploit African resources for the benefit of others.

Curiously the debate over foreign direct investment in African agriculture has focused almost exclusively on access to land.  Water has been largely ignored – until now. New research, commissioned by the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) and presented this week by International Water Management Institute’s Tim Williams at a session during World Water Week in Stockholm has attempted to tease out what the implications of the trend might be for the continent’s water and those who depend upon it.

Currently only 5% of sub-Saharan agriculture benefits from irrigation. New investments potentially offer opportunities to dramatically increase this. Nonetheless, questions remain about the motives of investors and the actual contributions of foreign direct investment (FDI) in agricultural land to the national development of host countries.

What are their actual impacts on national food security, local livelihoods, on water quantity and quality, and on essential ecosystem services?  Unscrupulous large-scale land acquisitions and inadequate consideration of the actual and potential uses of water for the legitimate pursuit of customary livelihoods and lifestyles have the potential to lead to significant inequity, inefficiency and environmental problems.

Read the full article: WLE-CGIAR

About international land grabbing

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These 15 organizations work protect the land rights of farmers and their communities and bring greater transparency to development projects.

The Land Battle: 15 Organizations Defending Land Rights

The increasing trend of international land grabbing—when governments and private firms invest in or purchase large tracts of land in other countries for the purpose of agricultural production and export—can have serious environmental and social consequences. Investors claim that land grabs can help alleviate the world food crisis by tapping into a country’s ‘unused’ agricultural potential, but such investments often do more harm than good, disrupting traditional land use and leaving half a billion family farmers vulnerable to exploitation.

According to the Land Matrix, approximately 130 million hectares of land (or more than 52.7 million football fields) has been acquired globally in settled and impending land deals over the last 15 years. In South Sudan, the country with the most transnational land acquisitions, land has been sold for as little as US$0.025 cents per hectare.

Approximately 60 percent of the food grown on acquired lands is intended for export instead of feeding local communities, according to Oxfam America. Nearly two-thirds of land grabs occur in countries with serious food security problems. In the Nacala Corridor of Mozambique, the Prosavana land grab will acquire 14 million hectares of land, displacing upwards of 500,000 people that already cultivate the area. According to The World Food Programme, about one-third of Mozambique’s 24.5 million inhabitants are malnourished and 500,000 children ages 6 to 23 months are undernourished.

Read the full article: Food Tank

Land grab in Kenya

Photo credit: CDN-IPS

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya’s Most Prized Asset: Land

By Miriam Gathigah

in IPS News

David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS -
David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS –×352.jpg


What is sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics citedby the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

Read the full article: IPS News

International investors sold or rented 227 million hectares of land in developing countries

Photo credit: Food Tank

April 22 is the forty-fifth anniversary of Earth Day, and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) is encouraging a renewed commitment to sustainable agriculture

300 Million People at Risk as a Result of Land Grabs

Sustainable agriculture a pillar of BCFN’s work and also a goal of the Milan Protocol, which includes participation from almost 100 organizations and institutions and thousands of individuals across the world.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will be deliver the Milan Protocol, commissioned by the Italian government, to the UN on October 16, 2015. BCFN is drawing attention on an important component to sustainable agriculture: access and ownership of land for farmers.

Since 2001, international investors sold or rented 227 million hectares of land in developing countries to international investors, according to a recent BCFN press release. Italy alone has invested in more than 540,000 hectares, mostly in Africa. This gold rush for land is known as land grabbing and has put the food security and nutrition of around 300 million people at risk.

“The phenomenon of land grabbing, and more generally of financial speculation on food products, is one of the global problems for which we most urgently need to find a solution,” says Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank in the press release.

BCFN proposes the following:

Read the full article: Food Tank

Oil palm plantation and land grab (GRAIN / AfricaFiles)

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Sierra Leone farmers reject land grab for oil palm plantation

Summary & Comment: “This is the third of a series of interviews about resistance to the expansion of industrial oil palm plantations in West and Central Africa… Members of communities affected by these monoculture plantations and civil society organisations from Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia met in Calabar, Nigeria from 2–5 November 2013. They shared testimonies and analysis of the consequences of the rapid and brutal expansion of monoculture oil palm plantations by multinational companies in different communities and countries.

Author: GRAIN    Date Written: 7 January 2014
Primary Category: Food and Land

Document Origin: GRAIN
Secondary Category: Western Region

Source URL:


Land grab : opportunities for returns in lucrative export markets (IIED)

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Tackling the trade law dimension of ‘land grabbing’

by Lorenzo Cotula

As trade talks regain momentum, ‘land grab’ activists are scrutinising negotiations and pioneering new opportunities for public accountability.

Despite much talk about the imperative to ‘feed the planet’, opportunities for returns in lucrative export markets have been an important driver of large land deals for plantation agriculture in Africa and Asia.

Many land deals target food demand from rising urban middle classes in host countries. But much land acquisition involves plans to grow crops for export. This includes cereals like grains and rice, commodities like cotton and rubber, and ‘flex crops’ like oil palm, soy and sugarcane — which can be used for food, feed, fuel or industrial purposes.

This situation creates opportunities for public accountability. ‘Land grab’ campaigners looking for effective pressure points are increasingly targeting transnational corporations that buy agricultural commodities to produce food and consumer goods for global markets.

These companies may not acquire land themselves, but they may source huge volumes of farm produce from ‘land grabbers’ worldwide. Importantly, the companies may have global brands that are vulnerable to reputational risk, and they can exert significant leverage over their supply chains.


Is the European demand for biofuels to blame for land acquisitions in poorer countries ? (IIED)

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‘Land grabbing’ in Africa: Biofuels are not off the hook

Land investment in Africa is growing driven by rises in global food prices, companies who see market opportunities in biofuels, and overseas countries anxious to secure their food supplies through direct investment.

by Lorenzo Cotula

A new report by Dutch consultancy firm Ecofys claims that European demand for biofuels is not to blame for “land grabbing” in poorer countries. The report — commissioned by an organisation that “represents the European renewable ethanol industry” — comes as EU law-makers discuss new biofuel legislation that could curb support to the sector.

The report reviews deals accounting for 67 per cent of total area included in the Land Matrix dabatase, which is one of the most ambitious attempts to monitor trends in land acquisitions.

Ecofys concludes that only 35 per cent of the land area in the deals it reviewed could be “confirmed”, as the remainder was from deals that never came to fruition or that have been cancelled. The report also estimates that biofuels account for far less land acquisition than previously thought.

The report implies that “land grabbing” has been exaggerated, and concludes that demand for biofuels has not been not a major driver of land acquisition.


Africa : the greater continent and its resources are not for sale (AfricaFiles)

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Sustainable Peasant’s Agriculture : Building a Peasant Revolution in Africa

Summary & Comment:

African peasant communities’ main purpose is to produce food for their own consumption…[based on] food sovereignty—the notion that peasants have the right to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food on their own, rather than depending on transnational corporations (or even charities) to fill their plates…As Via Campesina gains momentum globally, Ugandan peasant movements are strong candidates to join the strategic African-led alliance—letting the world know that the greater continent and its resources are not for sale.” (JK)

Author: Shifa Mwesigye , Salena Tramel    Date Written: 10 October 2013
Primary Category: Food and Land    Document Origin: CETRI- Tricontinental centre
Secondary Category: Ecology    Source URL:
Key Words: peasants, small farmers, food sovereignty, Via Campesina,corporate agrobusiness.

How investment by private financial players can undermine food security and human rights (Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab)

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Seeds of discontent

A powerful new documentary film, “Seeds of discontent”, has been launched today October 2, 2013 drawing attention to the role of a Swedish investment firm, Dutch pension fund and Norwegian church endowment in land grabbing in Mozambique. The film, released less than a week before the UN Committee for World Food Security meets in Rome, gives a compelling visual portrait of how investment by private financial players can undermine food security and human rights in developing countries. –

Commercial ‘land grabs’ , biodiversity and customary rights and livelihoods (IIED)

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Land grabbing: is conservation part of the problem or the solution?

Large-scale land acquisitions are increasing in pace and scale, in particular across parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Weak governance and poor land use planning mean that commercial ‘land grabs’ often damage biodiversity as well as dispossessing people from customary rights and livelihoods. Land can also be ‘grabbed’ for ‘green’ purposes, triggering conflicts that undermine potential
synergies. Expanded state protected areas, land for carbon offset markets and REDD, and for private conservation projects all potentially conflict with community rights.


A finer-grained understanding of land-grabbing features and what’s driving it (IIED)

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African land deals: Is a policy shift underway?

Lorenzo Cotula

African governments have played a key role in allocating land to investors. Recent developments hold out promise for more carefully thought out approaches by them in the future.

As ‘land grabbing’ in Africa continues to stir public debate, a more fine-grained understanding of its features and what’s driving it, and the role of public policies is rapidly growing.

For a long time, much attention focused on land acquisitions by companies from China and the Gulf, and on a narrative about ‘feeding the world’. But it is now clear that many deals are led by Western companies wanting to capitalise on a growing demand for energy and commodities in Europe and North America.

Also, much attention has focused on transnational deals. But evidence suggests that, for most people in rural Africa, the squeeze on their landholdings is caused by a less visible, longer-term process of land acquisition by local and national elites.

Land acquisition processes are themselves evolving rapidly. New deals are being signed, amended, suspended or cancelled. Companies acquiring land are being restructured, renamed or sold. This situation makes it difficult for observers, activists and policy makers to keep track of the phenomenon.

Importantly, public policies can also shift. Because policy plays a central role in promoting and shaping large land deals, policy changes deserve particular attention.

A tale of two parties

Take the role of African governments in deal-making. Talk of ‘land grabbing’ suggests that companies are appropriating land unilaterally. But land acquisitions typically involve contracts, and contracts involve two parties.


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