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The African land grab continues in Mali

farm plots in mali along the niger river

Last month, I dug into a relatively new phenomenon: the purchase of arable land in the developing world by countries that have largely exhausted their own farm lands and/or aquifers. Done in the name of food security, these wealthier countries are often cordoning off, if not outright displacing, small subsistence farmers from land they could use to meet their own needs.

Last week in Sélingué, Mali, the National Coordination of Farming Organizations (CNOP) and Via Campasina held the first international conference on the “land grab” in Africa. The Oakland Institute released a report on the conference’s focus on Mali, especially the fact that investment in farmland by foreign investors rose 60% between 2009 and 2010. Most of these land deals were struck with just 22 foreign investors.

The report raises several troubling facts about the land leases from Mali’s government, including:

  • An almost complete lack of transparency for affected local communities
  • Human rights abuses against small-scale landholders in the areas leased
  • A disregard for the concerns of those local residents
  • Planned use of much of these lands not for food crops, but for biofuel feedstocks

As The Guardian notes in its coverage of the report, this activity goes against recommendations made by African policymakers, who believe the continent’s food security relies on small farmers. Furthermore, while countries like Saudi Arabia and South Korea are among the investors, American universities like Harvard are also major players in the land grab.

Food security is going to be an issue this century. The spread of conventional agricultural practices during the 20th-century, even in places ill-suited for growing food, has created a tremendous impact on the resources needed to feed a growing global population. It’s hard to see how scooping up land in the poorest parts of the world is a sustainable answer to this crisis.

Take a look at the report, and let us know what jumps out at you.

via @VisionaryValues

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Image credit: Frank in Guinea at Flickr under a Creative Commons license