While our media persist in retelling the horrific stories of Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in Africa, a truly insidious story has been lurking in the shadows. Over the last 15 years, the systematic binge buying of Africa’s most fertile land and water is raping the continent. Large swathes of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, Madagascar, and Sudan have been bought or leased from those country’s governments.
Who are these buyers?
The most active buyers have been the US, UK, China, Germany, and The Netherlands. But they aren’t alone, the Middle East and Canada are in on the bounty as well. One report states that there were over 1000 separate purchases between 2000 and 2010 and the frenzy is only growing.
Because Africa still has some very fertile agricultural land with underground aquifers, and regional bountiful rainfalls that can be tapped. Most of the buyers engage in farming, quickly grazing the land in preparation for laying their fields. Others exploit the land for mining. Still others grow palm oil used to make biofuel. And while the grabs may appear friendly on the face, the truth is not so pretty. The land is typically bought for next to nothing, pennies per acre, the villagers that have lived on the land are uprooted and told they must vacate immediately taking what meager possessions they have, their homes are bulldozed, and their own farming livelihood evaporates completely. They are given nothing.
To date, it is estimated that the land grabs have divested Africa of 5% of its total land, or 70 million hectares which translates to over 173 million acres. There have been a spattering of incidences in which local farmers were beaten or killed for trying to resist giving up the land. Human Rights Watch has reported on incidences in which up to tens of thousands of locals were forcibly relocated as a result of a ‘land grab’. In Africa, most of the land is owned by the government which adds to the lacking oversight, corruption, and feeble resistance to make the agreements fair.
Unlike the photogenic pictures of smiling African farmers, the truth is more akin to the colonization of large swathes of land for high tech agricultural companies who need slave labor. Their pockets lined, the crops are exported to other countries around the world.
Refugee camps are swelling with displaced people, some fleeing skirmishes and war, others fleeing drought, and still others displaced by land grabs. Most refugee camps are on arid dry land, unusable for anything. Water is scarce and opportunity is dead.
Many of the land grabs are legal, the land technically owned by the government despite the fact that the farmers have been working the land and living on the land for twenty or thirty years. It then becomes an ethical question. Given that many of the Foundations that claim extensive ‘charitable’ work in Africa, the truth is much more cloudy. Are Africans benefiting? Are they really taught sustainable ways to care for themselves? Or are they becoming slave labor, cotton pickers, and tools for the wealthy to become – more wealthy?
Agriculture land and water are the new gold. As countries across the world grapple with future food shortages, they look to Africa and Asia’s carcass to support their economy and growing populations. The Netherlands faces climate change and rising ocean levels. But they also see opportunity that equates to $$$. The grabs have little to nothing to do with helping the impoverished and hungry in Africa and Asia, and everything to do with self preservation. In addition because there are no restrictions in place, these buyers can virtually do whatever they want. Including the use of heavy pesticides.
A Norwegian investor bought a 99-year lease for 179,000 hectares in South Sudan at an annual cost of just $0.07 a hectare ( one hectare = about 2.47 acres).
In 2013 the Clinton Foundation signed an agreement with the Tanzanian government whereby they promised to provide new ‘seeds’ to the farmers that will increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides and decrease the need for “God’s” rain.
The New Alliance For Food Security and Nutrition, an organization funded by the EU and the US states on its website that it brings together investors who want to buy or lease African land with their respective government. Of course, the website portrays a picture of progress and happy faces, but in reality it is a simply a conduit for making deals and making money.
According to the International Institute for Environment and Development: land disputes can become violent. The crops are exported with little benefit to Africa’s poor. Displaced refugees add to Africa’s plight. Without proper regulations in place, the large Agra companies have little incentive to consider the future of these people, water supplies, or food for the hungry.
It is a sad commentary of greed and fear, of little to no compassion, and of selfish desires.