As African nations sell and lease its land, and birthright, to the world’s super-powers, and arguably “dangerous” countries like Saudi Arabia who support Islamic fundamentalism, we are seeing a brand new kind of neo-colonial land-grab, and it scares me.
I’d reported on Galten’s Jatropha seeds for biofuel here, and also on the Israeli conglomerate Ormat, Evogene and Leviev in Namibia planting castor seeds for biofuel, and came out thinking, naively perhaps, that land development for biofuels in Africa was a beautiful thing: Israel doesn’t have much arable land, and the projects create jobs for Africans as well.
Israel is not the only Western country buying into Africa:
- Britain‘s Sun Biofuels plans to grow about 5,500 hectares of jatropha in Tanzania. The company also grows jatropha in Ethiopia and has similar projects in Mozambique.
- Sweden‘s Sekab Group, one of Europe’s leading ethanol producers, plans to produce 100 million litres of ethanol a year in Tanzania by 2012 at a cost of $200 – $300 million.
- British-based energy firm CAMS Group said in September it planned to produce 240 million litres of ethanol a year from sweet sorghum in Tanzania at a cost of up to $600 million.
- British biofuel company, D1-BP Fuel Crops is also actively planting Jatropha in Swaziland and Zambia, and also has plantings in Madagascar.
- In November 2008, South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics secured a 99-year lease on 1.3m hectares of land, an area roughly half the size of Belgium, from the government of Madagascar. (This equals about half of Madagascar’s arable land!)
- Flora EcoPower of Germany, through a local subsidiary, of 8,000 hectares in Oromia province in Ethiopia for the cultivation of castor seeds.
Now I am not a huge follower of crazy conspiracy theories, but something has me a little paranoid about new and aggressive land buying and leasing in Africa, especially when I hear countries like Saudi Arabia (15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis), are buying up land in Sudan for agricultural development. Gulf nations are cash-heavy, but water-poor and are looking to secure food and fuel resources on Africa’s land for the coming decades.
It’s Like The Gold Rush
New patterns of land use in Africa, and what’s being called an aggressive “land-grab” according to AfricaAsia.com, opens up some serious questions for environmentalists and policy makers to think about. I’m not mongering doom and gloom: the results could be good too: It’s possible that agricultural development for food and biofuels in countries like Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia could create more political stability and wealth for its indigenous people.
But I hazard to guess that sharing the profits equally with the Africans isn’t really on the landlords’ minds.
I fear, the only ones who’ll be reaping the big rewards, like coffee and diamond exporters mainly do, will be the big companies doing the colonizing. It is also likely, inevitable, and quite scary that some of these massive players will take their political points of view and baggage with them too.
Consider some of the Middle East players:
- In August 2008, Al-Qudra Holdings of Abu Dhabi said that it was looking to acquire 400,000 hectares of land in Asia and Africa, with Sudan a likely candidate, for the cultivation of corn, rice and cattle. The company already farms 1,500 hectares in Morocco and Algeria.
- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already acquired substantial holdings in Sudan.
- The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development alone is set to cultivate some 30,000 hectares of land in the north of Sudan.
- Hadco, of Saudi Arabia, is investing more than $96m in Sudan to lease 10,000 hectares on the banks of the Nile, near Khartoum, to produce wheat, vegetables and fodder.
According to AfricaAsia.com there have been similar investments in Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe. And Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, has been actively soliciting Middle East investment countries, describing himself as “very eager” to attract further land deals.
Here at Green Prophet, I work to give fair “green” value and criticism to all countries in the Middle East; the fact that countries like Saudi Arabia who support the Taliban and al Qaeda, are also buying land in Africa for agricultural development, deeply worries me.
InformationClearinghouse.net (in general highly critical of Israel, the US and the West) comments:”Backed by their governments and bankrolled with huge trade and investment profits and budget surpluses, the newly emerging neo-colonial economic powers (ENEP) are seizing control of vast tracts of fertile lands from poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, through the intermediation of local corrupt, free-market regimes.
“Millions of acres of land have been granted – in most cases free of charge – to the ENEP who, at most, promise to invest millions in infrastructure to facilitate the transfer of their plundered agricultural products to their own home markets and to pay the ongoing wage of less than $1 dollar a day to the destitute local peasants.”
“Projects and agreements between the ENEP and pliant neo-colonial regimes are in the works to expand imperial land takeovers to cover additional tens of millions of hectares of farmland in the very near future. The great land sell-off/transfer takes place at a time and in places where landless peasants are growing in number, small farmers are being forcibly displaced by the neo-colonial state and bankrupted through debt and lack of affordable credit. Millions of organized landless peasants and rural workers struggling for cultivatable land are criminalized, repressed, assassinated or jailed and their families are driven into disease-ridden urban slums. The historic context, economic actors and methods of agro-business empire-building bears similarities and differences with the old-style empire building of the past centuries.”
The above point-of-view may be a bit extreme (and the site insanely anti-Israel), but what I would like the commentary above and this post to do in general, is to encourage more people, reporters and environment bloggers to look with a critical eye at what’s happening in Africa with regards to foreign land leases, investments and development. It’s worrisome to think that without any controls, the massively rich nations will be getting richer and stronger, while the Africans and the weaker ones . . . you know already how this story ends.
For a great background piece on what’s happening with water in Madagascar, and the region in general, read Green Prophet’s interview with film producer Courtney Nichols.
(Image credit: treesftf)
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