Land grab or development opportunity?

book cover Land grab or development opportunity?Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa / by Lorenzo Cotula, Sonja Vermeulen, Rebeca Leonard and James Keeley. London, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) : with FAO [etc.] (2009)

In the 3 May 2009 issue of The Independent, Margareta Pagano reports:
“In Africa they are calling it the land grab, or the new colonialism. Countries hungry to secure their food supplies – including Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, South Korea (the world's third biggest importer of corn) China, India, Libya and Egypt – are at the forefront of a frantic rush to gobble up farmland all around the world, but mainly in cash-starved Africa.”

For instance, since 2006, the UK-based Lonrho corporation leased 25,000 hectares for rice in Angola; China secured 2.8m hectares for a biofuel oil palm plantation in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Qatar leased 20,000 hectares for fruit and vegetable cultivation in exchange for funding a $2.3bn port in Kenya. (The Guardian, 3 July 2009)

These developments could create a situation in which poor States produce food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people. In this new ‘Scramble for Africa’ there seems to be no place for the small farmers.

Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa, by Lorenzo Cotula, Sonja Vermeulen, Rebeca Leonard and James Keeley, a recent report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) describes the huge deals reported to date as "the tip of the iceberg".

Despite the spate of media reports and some isolated examples of forerunner research, there is still little empirical evidence about international land deals and their positive and negative impacts. This report provides a contribution in that direction. Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, it examines key trends and drivers in land acquisitions, the contractual arrangements underpinning them and the way these are negotiated, and the early impacts on land access for rural people in recipient countries. The study takes stock of what is known about these issues, reports empirical evidence internationally and from a sample of countries, and identifies next steps for research, policy and action. The aim is not to come up with definitive answers, but to facilitate balanced debate among government, private sector and civil society interest groups.

The report finds that the fast-evolving developments create opportunities, challenges and risks.
Recipient countries, welcoming the new wave of foreign investment, are implementing policy and legislative reforms to attract investors. Increased investment may bring macro-level benefits (GDP growth and government revenues), and create opportunities for raising local living standards. For poorer countries with relatively abundant land, incoming investors may bring capital, technology, know-how and market access, and may play an important role in catalyzing economic development in rural areas.

On the other hand, large-scale land acquisitions can result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security and livelihoods. Local residents may be directly dispossessed of the land they live on, often their long-standing heritage.

The report draws on a literature review; on qualitative interviews with key informants internationally; on national inventories of approved and proposed land acquisitions since 2004 in five African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan), as well as qualitative case studies in Mozambique and Tanzania; and on legal analysis of applicable law and of a small sample of land deals.

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Tineke Sommeling