Monday, 13 June 2011


The acquisition of land by multi nationals for development or to acquire resources at the expense of local people is bound to be a touchy subject especially when little medium to long term sustainable benefit is delivered to the indigenous inhabitants. We in Wales, ironically, should know about this having been at the sharp end ourselves when it comes to the exploration our natural resources and have been largely peripheral to any benefits received.

What's happening now in Africa is subtly different, there is a race going on between multi national companies on one hand and the emerging economic giant of the Peoples Republic of China on the other hand to acquire land, not so much for the minerals (although that is a factor) but to acquire the ability to grow food. An interesting report (produced by the Oakland Institute) has noted that Hedge funds are now getting involved in acquiring land in Africa to produce food and biofuels, which will all boost their profits.

The report notes that foreign firms and hedge funds) have been quietly purchasing large chunks of land in Africa, often without any proper contracts and that this activity has led to the displacement of millions of small farmers, who are losing out as multi national firms try to secure their hold of the global food markets. Food production is often sacrificed to make space for cash crops for export, including flowers and biofuels, which fetch a tidy profit.

Since 2009 foreign firms the report notes that have acquired land equivalent to the size of France (nearly 60 million hectares) from questionable but lucrative deals with a combination of gullible traditional leaders or corrupt government officials in in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique. No doubt the foreign firms make many promises of progress, development and jobs to local chiefs, but they don't necessarily come close to delivering on the promises.

Investors benefit with a wide range of incentives written into their contracts from unlimited water rights to tax waivers, but, are clearly not there to help feed starving Africans. Sounds familiar doesn't it - not that much of step from the old days of the WDA throwing wads of cash of foreign investors, who got all sorts of benefits (grants and incentives), promised much (I seem to recall the magic figure of 6,000 jobs kept cropping up in the 1980's, 1990s and early 2000's) yet in the end never quite delivered all that was promised.

As we stand on the brink of what has been aptly described as the Age of Scarcity - a combination of peak oil, climate change and financial instability not to mention food security and fuel security, we should all take note of this developments in Africa and look closer to home when it comes to the development of secure energy and food supplies and particularly take note of the issue of ownership.

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