Africa's farm land: a new source of exploitation

Quick: think of something that Africa has in abundance. Given the tenor of most of the news we get from the continent, answers like poverty, disease, and social unrest may pop into your head. All of those answers are correct, unfortunately, but governments around the world, as well as investors, are seeing something else: land, particularly farmland. With aquifers falling beyond their refresh rates and soil fertility eaten up by erosion, over-farming, and/or deforestation, many governments are looking for new places to grow food. And Africa, as it has for centuries, is looking ripe for exploitation. According to the World Bank, “approximately 56 million hectares of arable land has been purchased or leased worldwide, 70% of which took place in Africa.”

Growing food is one thing (though it’s still problematic when it’s happening in front of hungry people who won’t see any of it), but the African land grab isn’t just about farming. In some cases -surprise, surprise – it’s purely for economic gain. Justiça Ambiental & Uniao Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC) focus on Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, in its new report “Lords of the Land.” Their press release provides a grim picture of the contrast between how such land grabs are being portrayed and the reality on the ground.

The private equity investment fund, Global Solidarity Forest Fund (GSFF), for instance, has purchased the rights to 31,000 hectares of land in the Chikweti forest district in Northern Mozambique, and promotes their forestry and timber projects there as “ethical investments.” But it turns out they’re also “currently illegally occupying 32,000 hectares of land in the Niassa district; Not forests, but fields previously used by the local farmers and communities to grow food.” Farmers have been run off their land through assault and intimidation, their crops burned, and the forests have been clear cut rather than protected.

I searched for a response from GSFF and their management organization, the Global Solidarity Fund International (GSFI), but they don’t even seem to have a website, or at least no web site I could be certain belonged to them. I could only find references to the organization through other sources. I did run across another claim, though: part of their “forestry” activity seems to be introducing non-native species of tree plantations into Mozambique.

Sounds an awful lot like the world’s relationship to Africa in the past, except, this time, over-development of resources in home countries is combined with greed as the motivation for exploiting countries like Mozambique. If you know more about the land grabs in Mozambique, or other areas of Africa, please do share your knowledge or experience with us.


Image: a typical farm in Nhucure, Mozambique Credit: Erik Cleves Kristensen at Flickr under a Creative Ccmmons license