Tuesday, December 01, 2009

the great land grab part 2

Although the world already produces twice as much food as is required to feed its entire population, the primary problem remains access.For many in Africa, farmland is not a means to an end - it is the lifeline used to survive life. Much land is community-owned, and in some countries state-owned. Even land that is officially categorized as un- or under-­utilized may in fact be subject to complex patterns of "customary" usage.In Africa, just 2-10 per cent of land is privately held, with the remainder constituting resources held in common (aka the commons).

'We are not farmers...' stated an official from SLC Agricola, Brazil's largest 'farm' corporation. 'The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities.'

Africa is a particular focus for this investment explosion because of the perception that there is plenty of cheap land and labour available.the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter points out. In Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, for example, only some 12 per cent of arable land is actually cultivated.Mr. De Schutter wrote "The stakes are huge,...the deals as they have been concluded up to now are very meagre as far as the obligations of the investors are concerned." He also notes that agreements concerning thousands of hectares of farmland are sometimes just three or four pages long."

In the ever-fertile Congo, where 200 000 hectares of land have been provided free of charge to South African farmers characterised by tax exemptions, repatriation of profits, no export restrictions and other subsidies.Nguesso's regime even offered to lend armed forces to securitise the 'abandoned' state farms. A 30 year lease, with priority access to a further 30 year period following assessments by a committee composed of six representatives - three from the Congolese state, and three from the commercial farmers unions, is the primary determining factor.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) revealed, 'Many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare. Moreover, local communities are rarely adequately informed about the land concessions that are made to private companies. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps, and other factors all too often undermine the position of local people vis-à-vis international actors.'

At no time was the right of the Congo's regime to export ownership of farmland ever questioned, despite the Congo being ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries.
This situation is not unique in Africa: In Sudan, where 95 per cent of land is state-owned Jarch Capital, acquired 400 000 hectares of land from the son of Sudan People's Liberation Movement General Paulino Matip, with a further view for 400 000 hectares before end 2009. Jarch, headed by ex-Wall Street banker Phillip Heilberg, was described by the Financial Times, as 'believing that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.'
(Heilberg's second in command is Joe Wilson, former senior director for African Affairs at the US's National Security Council.)

The situation and terms differ from country to country but the issue remains one of control and exploitation, whether it is over local food monopolies or exported crops.

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