Article: The Global Food Crisis & Land Grabs in Africa

[Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization: Article: The Global Food Crisis and Land Grabs in Africa ]

Land grabs on the continent of Africa are partly driven by recent food crises, which led to food riots all over the globe.  Currently, Africa has about a third of the world‘s arable land.  Long-term land leases and purchases of Africa‘s arable land are increasing as a response to the global food crisis. The implication is that the creation of commercial food plantations on the continent of Africa will not facilitate mutually beneficial arrangements between African nations and people and the multinational corporations that are buying up the land.

The global food crisis is exacerbated by the fact that unsustainable consumption patterns exist in North America and Europe (the „West“). Moreover, it is telling that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing Monsanto‘s genetically modified seeds toward African farmers, touting increased productivity, while ignoring their detrimental effects.

„Using strains of crops that required fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation, the Green Revolution methods increased yields. But they also damaged the environment, favored wealthier farmers and left some poorer ones deeper in debt.“ (Seattle Times: Gates Foundation’s agriculture aid a hard sell, 20 January 2008)

The fact remains that much of the land in North America and Europe is not arable because of unsustainable farming practices. These practices include the use of Monsanto’s GMO, single-yield seeds and the cultivation of non-native or invasive species, which essentially strip the soil of essential nutrients. Urbanization and suburbanization is another factor in the decrease in arable land tracts in North America and Europe.

A World Bank study released in September tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres — the size of California and West Virginia combined — announced during the first 11 months of 2009 alone. Over 70% of these land deals are concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique. These deals usually stipulate the transfer of land ownersship to investors or long-term leases. (NYTimes: African Farmers Losing Land to Investors, 21 December 2010) Before 2008, the average rate was 10 million acres per year. This 1000 per cent increase in land deals is due, in part, to the global food crisis. Governments and multinational corporations buy the land to have greater control over food prices and production.

In 2009, a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of President Ravalomanana. The unpopular former president was replaced by his opposition leader, the former mayor of Antanarivo, Andry Rajoelina.

In Mali, nearly three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta are controlled by a state-run trust called the Office du Niger. Multinational corporations from China and South Africa are investing heavily into Malian land for the cultivation of sugar cane.  Corporations based in Libya and Saudi Arabia are investing in land for the cultivation of rice. Other nations with heavy investment into African landgrabs include Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and multinational organizations like the West African Development Bank.  One problem, for example, is that the Libyan government intends to import its agricultural products (rice, beef, etc.) produced on Malian land into Libya, rather than sell in local markets. This would be good news if the land deals weren‘t displacing Malian farmers. As Mali is still largely agrarian, displaced farmers face a dilemma.  By and large, they do not have the option to migrate to urban centers in search of work. Similarly, they do not have the choice to remain on the land that they tilled for generations.

Here is a map diagramming the buyers and sellers of Africa‘s arable land.

Will this have a disproportionate impact on women?

Traditionally, farming is the domain of women – especially subsistence farming. In some parts of Africa, the cultivation of certain crops, like yams and millet, is gendered. It is estimated that in Burkina Faso, women account for 48 per cent of laborers in the agricultural sector. In Zimbabwe, women comprise 61 per cent of farmers and 70 per cent of the labor force in the agricultural sector.  It makes sense to frame landgrabs as a threat to women farmers‘ autonomy.

As commercial food plantations replace smaller-scale farmers, the concentration of land wealth will place African women at a further disadvantage. Globally, women only own one per cent of land, despite accounting for about 66 per cent of all labor [household, agricultural, etc.]  In Uganda, only 7 per cent of women own land. In Kenya, customary land laws still bar women from owning land.  Senegalese law stipulates that men and women have equal rights to land ownership, but the reality is that economic discrepancies still favor men. It is fair to assert that poverty has a feminine face – and this is particularly true for Africa‘s women.

Land disenfranchisement through land grabs and forced migration from rural-agrarian communities have particularly detrimental effects on women. The majority of Africa‘s farmers are women. The creation of commercial food plantations, the increased concentration of land wealth, and the exportation of foodstuffs produced on African soil will likely have a deleterious impact on emerging economies on the continent of Africa, as well as on the people.


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