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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7866
JPY
USD
109.25
GBP
USD
0.6139
CAD
USD
1.1120
INR
USD
61.428

Rates may not be current.