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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8926
JPY
USD
123.71
GBP
USD
0.6358
CAD
USD
1.2364
INR
USD
63.600

Rates may not be current.