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Thursday, January 29, 2015
Nigerian communities have been vulnerable to land grabs since the government made international investment in its agricultural sector a priority. Nigeria is evicting local farmers from 300 square kilometres of fertile farmland to clear the way for a rice farm owned and controlled from the US and Canada. A 45,000-strong community faces landlessness and destitution. Farmers in Nigeria's north eastern state of Taraba are being forced off lands they have farmed for generations to make way for US company Dominion Farms. Dominion Farms Limited is a company registered in Kenya, with headquarters in Oklahoma, US, that is majority owned by US-Canadian businessman Calvin Burgess as part of his 'Dominion Group of Companies'. The company operates a rice farm operation in the Yala Swamp area of Western Kenya that local farmers say has resulted in the loss of their lands and livelihoods, and grave social, environmental and health impacts on the affected communities.
The Nigerian government's Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Federal Ministry of Investment are seeking to increase foreign direct investment in agriculture as a strategy to raise national food production. Under the policy, vast tracts of agricultural lands have been identified by the government for large scale projects by foreign companies - including 380 sq.km controlled by Taraba State's Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority (UBRBDA) - a government agency established in 1978 to support local farmers with irrigation schemes, flood defences, roads, stores and warehouses. The UBRBDA lands and the Gassol Community lie on the north-eastern shoreline of the Taraba River. Some 10,000 farmers depend on these lands for their livelihoods, of which 3,000 hold land titles inherited from their ancestors who first settled there. In all some 45,000 people are sustained by the fertile farmland. Along one side of the lands runs an 8 km long embankment that was built by UBRBDA to protect the farmlands from the river's overflow. The lands provide major ecological and hydrological functions and are a major source of livelihoods for the farmers of Gassol and other neighbouring communities. In 2010, Dominion Farms first made its appearance in Gassol seeking the allocation of lands, water resources, fishing ponds and grazing areas used by the community for the construction of a large scale rice farm. Two years later the company achieved its objective when it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Taraba State government and the Nigerian government for a 300 sq.km concession on the UBRBDA lands for the creation of a large scale rice farm.
UK Development secretary Justine Greening is facing questions over its involvement in the massive land-grab. The project forms part of the UK-backed New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Nigerian government's Agricultural Transformation Agenda. Both initiatives are ostensibly intended to enhance food security and livelihoods for small farmers in Nigeria. But a new report 'The Dominion Farms land grab in Nigeria', finds that the Dominion Farms project is having the opposite effect. The lands provided to Dominion Farms are part of a public irrigation scheme that 45,000 people depend on for their food needs and livelihoods. The local people were never consulted about the Dominion Farms project and, although the company has already started to occupy the lands, they are still completely in the dark about any plans for compensation or resettlement.
"Aid money should be spent supporting communities to develop sustainable agriculture rather than supporting initiatives which are enabling companies to evict those communities", commented Heidi Chow, food sovereignty campaigner from Global Justice Now. "Initiatives like the New Alliance seem to be more about providing opportunities for agribusiness to carve up the resources of African countries rather than trying to address poverty or hunger."
"The local people are united in their opposition to the Dominion Farms project", says Raymond Enoch, an author of the report and director of the Center for Environmental Education and Development in Nigeria. "They want their lands back so that they can continue to produce food for their families and the people of Nigeria."
Mallam Danladi K Jallo, a local farmer from Gassol, said: "Our land is very rich and good. We produce a lot of different crops here, and we farm fish and rear goats, sheep and cattle…We were happy when we heard of the coming of the Dominion Farms not knowing it was for the selfish interest of some few members of the State, Federal Government and the foreigner in charge of the Dominion Farms.” Dominion Farms has already filled in ponds and water canals that local people depend on for fishing and has stationed security agents in the area to prevent farmers from accessing their lands. People have also been forced to stop grazing their goats and cows on the lands occupied by Dominion Farms.
Some affected farmers said that a range of promises - about adequate compensation for their lands, about the building of schools, roads, hospitals and a farm training centre, and about the employment of local people - had been made when Dominion Farms and government agencies initially visited the area. However none of these promises have been kept. Pledges that were made during the process of allocating lands to Dominion Farms to improve the livelihood of the local farmers of Gassol have so far not transpired
Two Nigerian NGOs, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) / Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FOEN) and Center for Environmental Education and Development (CEED) found "Consultations with the affected farmers in Gassol community revealed severe irregularities. The farmers interviewed indicated that only the local elites and government agents were consulted, some of whom had personally endorsed the project in their community in spite of apparent widespread opposition amongst the members of the community. It further revealed that consultations did not deal with the question of whether or not the local communities accept the project and under what terms they would do so" The MOU between the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Taraba State Government and Dominion Farms Ltd was signed "without proper consultations with the affected communities", the investigators found.
"Those consultations that did take place involved mainly government officials. The information that local people received about the project was insufficient and was presented in a partial manner in favour of the project. Local farmers were never asked if they agreed to the project or under what terms they would accept the project, and were thus kept out of a decision that has major impacts on their lives."
The agreement was also signed without a social and environmental impact assessment, and did not include any resettlement plan for the farmers that would be evicted from their farms.
"In spite of the New Alliance rhetoric on tackling food security, on the ground the Dominion Farms investment has resulted in land grabbing, reducing the ability and resilience of local farmers to feed themselves and their communities", says the report.