Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Land Grab or Investment Opportunity?

screencap from African perspectives

The always-interesting Aljazeera takes on the question of massive foreign purchases of land on the African continent:
Escalating energy and food prices have triggered a global scramble for Africa's land and water resources. Eager to feed their growing populations, countries are buying up prime farmland in Africa at rock bottom prices. Land eight times the size of the UK has already been bought up by hungry investors.




via Aljazeera


Eight times the size of the UK. That's a lot of land. On South2North, Redi Tlhabi talks to former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian politician and Oxfam trustee Nkoyo Toyo and Philippe Heilberg, a land investor from the US.
The problem is, this land is being industrially farmed for food for non-African countries--the food being grown is primarily for export. That doesn't do a lot for the affected countries. Investment in peasant agriculture following agro-ecological principles would do a lot more towards both feeding the population and growing the local economies. It's like Walmart coming into a country. It doesn't do the local economy any good--they bring some minimum wage jobs, but the destruction of small businesses and the asset stripping of the local area causes far more damage than any benefit from the local employment.
One of the interesting things about the discussion is how Philippe Heilberg acknowledges that he's a disaster capitalist, and he invest because he can get exponential growth and returns on his investment--without regard for local conditions.
Heilberg argues that the statistics from the UN are highly distorted because they are not closed or official deals. He says that his own figures have been doubled in some accounts.
"Land is cheap in Africa, but there are many reasons why it's cheap. In many parts of the continent there is little to no infrastructure whatsoever .... The frontier markets offer incredible risk-reward opportunities. Because when the growth happens it's exponential."
Toyo disagrees that these deals have always been above-board and that they benefit local communities.
"That's not what we are seeing on the ground. We are seeing incidences of violence. We are seeing incidences of forced evictions. We are seeing incidences of homelessness, farm lands being taken away ... The fact is that most of the grabs that are going on, the owners don't even know about them, so there isn't even a basis for that conversation to happen. The negotiations are happening sometimes with powerful people in secret negotiations. These non-transparent processes are depriving people down the line."

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