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Land Grab in Africa Threatens Food Security

  • Kim Lewis

The International aid agency Oxfam warns that more than 60 percent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in countries where food security was a major challenge.

The report, Our land, Our lives, also says that Africa’s land is the most targeted with known deals equaling nearly five per cent of the continent’s total agricultural area.

Oxfam reports that while foreign investment is normally thought of as good for a country, these land deals potentially threaten the livelihoods of 80 million small landholders, farmers and pastoralists.

“We distinguish between land deals and land grabs. Land grab essentially means the communities, many of which are poor communities, lose their land and livelihood as a result of transactions that take place sometimes between governments and investors, and sometimes between elites and foreign investors. These processes leave families basically without any alternative livelihood. And in many cases the transactions are accompanied by violence and conflict,” explained Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s pan Africa director in Nairobi.

The report says that countries affected by “land grab” include, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

Houghton said that Oxfam has seen about 700 deals over the last decade, which are equivalent in land area to Kenya or Cameroon.

As a result Oxfam is stepping up its campaign to end land grabs that it believes violate human rights. Houghton said first of all you have to know how the land is going to be used. There are two main areas of interest for investors.

“The first is for production of biofuel and there is a huge demand for biofuel globally, particularly in Europe and North America. The first group of interests has been in planting soy, palm oil and sugar cane to produce ethanol so it can be exported,” said Houghton.

The second interest said Houghton is producing food, which is largely going to the Middle East and Asia.

“What we are worried about is it is happening on a continent where one in four people are food insecure. Many of these countries have food insecurity. Within Oxfam and a number of different organizations, we are simply publicizing this issue and seeking government intervention across Africa, particularly under the auspices of the African Union,” said Houghton.

Houghton said that governments can protect their land by performing “due diligence” with environmental, social and labor impact assessments. Also, investments should primarily support the communities by helping them increase productivity and not harm farming.
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