eye-opening piece on african land grabs

21Jan11

Why do so many individuals and organizations shy away from calling land grabbing what it is, and either put it in inverted commas or trot out such euphemisms as ‘responsible land-based investment’, ‘commercial pressures on land’ or ‘large-scale investment in land’?

Why are researchers who have worked on land grabbing so apparently timid and complacent in their conclusions, so desperately eager to seek magic, painless ‘win-win’ solutions, and so quick to retreat to ‘each case is different, the devil lies in the detail’ formulations. Could it be that they fear to antagonize their donors?

Why is such an enormous amount of effort, time and resources being invested by organizations such as the World Bank, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI etc, in the drawing up of international, but always voluntary, codes of conduct in an attempt to regulate land grabbing? These will increase the likelihood of poor people losing their land and it will be impossible to bring to account companies which violate them. I agree with Ian Scoones that such principles are ‘doomed to failure, given the lack of capacity, failures of institutional authority, corrupt practices and so on’ highlighted in the World Bank’s September 2010 report, Rising Global Interest in Farmland. Advocates of ‘win-win’ situations argue that many of these are ‘paper deals’ which may never come to fruition. I think that misses the point entirely. Are those whose land rights are threatened expected to sit patiently and wait to see what happens?

Finally, why, given that the long term impact of global land grabbing on many African rural communities could well be catastrophic, does there appear to exist an almost total conspiracy of silence on the subject? Although I sense that this may at last be beginning to change a little.

Parts of Africa are being targeted because ‘African farmland prices are the lowest in the world’ and ‘it is the last frontier’. Many African leaders, and foreign investors, peddle the myth that there is a vast amount of vacant, unused land, owned by no one – and hence available to outsiders. One suggested that pastoralists in Ethiopia ‘can just go somewhere else’, another that Zambia has well over 30 million hectares ‘begging to be utilised’, yet another that 36 million hectares of arable land in Mozambique could be used for biofuels without threatening food production!

Still, doesn’t sound like settler colonialism – but then what is it? I raised some of these issues here, but the matter is far from settled. More scholarship on this is required.

See full article here @ African Arguments.

Hat tip to Aaron B.



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