Thursday, June 09, 2011

south africa grabs the congo

Land concession agreements have proliferated across Africa and elsewhere, leading to concerns that the promised benefits for locals - especially jobs - are never realized, while potential environmental and political damages are undersold. A 2011 World Bank report studied the increasing number of land deals from the past two years and concluded that "the risks are often large. Case studies demonstrate that even some of the profitable projects do not generate satisfactory local benefits, while, of course, none of the unprofitable or non-cooperational ones do."

"Congo has been waiting for an investment initiative like this, the creation of thousands of jobs. More than anything else, the country is expecting abundant food since the South African farmers will produce crops and raise livestock,"
said Minister of Land Affairs and Public Domain Pierre Mabiala.

40 South African farmers are leasing government-owned land for 30 years, with the provision to extend it for two terms. The farmlands include 63,000ha in Niari and 17,000ha in Bouenza, in the southwest.

Arable land occupies just 11 per cent of the Earth’s surface at present. As James Heartfield has argued ‘Between 1982 and 2003, national parks grew from nine million square kilometres to 19million, 12.5 per cent of the earth’s surface – or more than the combined land of China and South-East Asia. In the US more than one billion acres of agricultural land is lying fallow.’ In Europe, farmers have received payments to not grow food - ‘set-aside’ (although the practice has effectively been suspended since 2008, after food prices rose sharply that year). Meanwhile, developing countries are starting to act to turn once-infertile land into farmland. In Brazil, a huge area of dry savannah called the cerrado has been converted into productive land. The amount of land we have available for food is flexible.

There are 10 to 12 million hectares of land with agricultural potential in Congo, according to government data, but only 2 percent is farmed.

Wynand du Toit, vice-president of the Association of South African farmers who signed the deal explained "Our priority is to help produce enough to feed the country - we are not looking at exports for at least two or three years and then only if we produce a surplus which we cannot sell to the domestic market. If we do end up producing more than we can sell here then we might consider selling to neighbouring Gabon and the Central African Republic." Du Toit said the farmers viewed the acquisition as a business venture, and a way of diversifying investments.

Critics say bringing in foreign farmers is not the way to address food insecurity in the country. "We don't actually need operators or farmers from elsewhere to nourish us. We have a clear problem: our authorities do not assist our own farmers as they should," complained Dieudonné Mingui, head of the NGO Initiatives for Development and Progress. "Farmers right here don't lack initiative, they lack the means to develop large projects,"

Joseph Moutanda Kassao, president of a cooperative of 320 growers based in Brazzaville said "If the South African farmers are really coming to produce and sell all the produce on the local market, it's a good thing. But if they're coming for their own interests, it will be a shame...Let's wait and see."

Lets wait and see...can the capitalist leopard change its spots?

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