News / Economy

UN: 'Land Grab' Deals Hurt Local Farmers

This photo from Oct. 10, 2012, shows the wheat farm of Ethiopian farmer Bedlu Mamo, in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Farmers in the Gambella region have been pushed off their land to make way for companies from China, India and Saudi Arabia that are exporting the harvest back to the home country.
This photo from Oct. 10, 2012, shows the wheat farm of Ethiopian farmer Bedlu Mamo, in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Farmers in the Gambella region have been pushed off their land to make way for companies from China, India and Saudi Arabia that are exporting the harvest back to the home country.
Controversial farmland deals in developing countries can have a negative impact on the people who live on the land, according to a new U.N. report.

While investment in agriculture is essential to help developing countries reduce hunger and poverty, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says these large-scale "land grabs" don't always help.

The surging global demand for food, fodder and fuel crops is driving a land rush in parts of the developing world.

Investors are pouring money into large-scale farmland leases in Africa, Asia, former Soviet countries and elsewhere.

'Daylight robbery'

The Gambella region of Ethiopia is home to many such leases. It is also home to some of the last best farmland on Earth.

The Ethiopian government says it has leased more than 225,000 hectares to foreign investors, who have put more than $2 billion into the deals.

Ethiopian officials say this is just the kind of agricultural development the country needs to modernize farming, improve food production and provide jobs.

Obang Metho, who grew up in Gambella, sees it differently.

“I am not anti-investment," he says. "But I am anti-daylight robbery. What is going on in Africa is robbery.”

Metho heads the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, an activist group based in Washington. He says farmers in Gambella have been pushed off their land to make way for companies from China, India and Saudi Arabia that are exporting the harvest back to the home country.

Human Rights Watch estimates that 42 percent of the land in the region is leased or on offer.

Hungry nation

Metho says that’s a serious problem for a country like Ethiopia, with hunger problems of its own.

“If they have land to give to the Indians, or the Arabs, the Chinese, the Saudis to come," he asks, "why did Ethiopia not use this land to feed the Ethiopian people?”

Ethiopia’s Washington embassy says it's not displacing small-holder farmers, and that it takes great care not to infringe on the rights of local people.

But large-scale land deals in developing countries have become more common in recent years as global food commodity prices have spiked. Critics call them “land grabs.”

“'Land grab' is sort-of a controversial term, but I think it’s accurate in this case,” says Michael Kugelman, lead editor of "The Global Farms Race," a new book on agricultural investments and food security.

Search for farmland

He says food-importing countries are looking for farmland abroad to limit their exposure to volatile global markets.

“These food importing countries also lack the land and the water at home to do the farming themselves," he says. "So they’re going abroad to countries that are very willing to host them.”

Data are sketchy, but estimates of land leased are in the tens of millions of hectares worldwide.

Outcomes have been mixed, says Jomo Kwame Sundaram, economic and social development chief at the FAO.

The organization's new report highlights the need for investments in agriculture in the countries hosting these land deals. But Sundaram says land deals may not always be the best way to do it.  

“Land acquisisions are one of the most difficult type of investments to produce the types of desirable outcomes that we have in mind, like food security, local economic development, etcetera,” he says.

Countries get better results from public-sector investments in research and infrastructure, for example.

Pocketing the proceeds

Michael Kugelman says the food security and economic development benefits promised to the people of the host countries have not materialized. But he says many of the governments have benefitted.

“A lot of the governments in the countries hosting the deals are corrupt, they’re not very democratic, and they’re happy just to pocket some of the proceeds from these investments.”

And some of these deals are sparking conflict.

Protesters overthrew the government of Madagascar in 2009 in part because of a land deal that would have leased half the country's arable land to a South Korean firm. The new government canceled the deal.

Responsible investment

International organizations, including the FAO and the World Bank among others, have developed voluntary guidelines for responsible land investment to try to promote more equitable investment.

The FAO’s Jomo Sundaram says the investor community wants the guidelines, too.

“There is quite a bit of demand by the private sector for those guidelines that will help them to protect their own investments,” he says.

But Obang Metho from the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia doubts that voluntary guidelines will change the behavior of corrupt and autocratic governments.

“As long as the regime doesn’t respect the rights of their people, nothing will work,” he says.

Meanwhile, the rising demand for food will continue to drive fierce competition for the limited remaining land on which to grow it.

You May Like

US Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8815
JPY
USD
117.85
GBP
USD
0.6581
CAD
USD
1.2420
INR
USD
61.404

Rates may not be current.