Africa is giving vast tracts of farmland to rich nations looking to feed their own people without ensuring those on the world’s hungriest continent benefit, the African Union (AU) said April 28.
Countries in Asia and the Gulf that are mainly reliant on food imports have been increasingly seeking land in the developing world to grow crops for their own populations.
“African countries have not been in a reasonable bargaining position,” AU Agriculture Commissioner Rhoda Peace Tumusiime told Reuters in an interview at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
“The pace of the trend was very fast and they didn’t envisage that there should be benefits to the community.”
Quickly nicknamed “land-grabbing” by many Africans, the phenomenon has drawn sharp criticism from some who accuse the buyers of ignoring the interests of local people.
“The majority of African people are still poor and can feel they are being exploited by the foreigners,” Tumusiime said. “So we need to improve the situation if we can.”
Oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been buying land in desperately poor countries like Ethiopia and Sudan that often struggle to feed themselves.
But Tumusiime said cross-border farmland deals could still prove mutually beneficial and boost global food security – if African governments learned how to negotiate more effectively.
“I don’t think it should be purchasing of land, it should be investment,” the AU commissioner said.
“The population of this continent is dependent on land, so to be beneficial it needs to be a production/ trade arrangement between the host country and investing country.”
Such deals would increase overall food production and could bring more produce to international markets and also to the poorest African households, Tumusiime said.
Guidelines on how to negotiate with foreign investors were agreed at an AU ministers’ meeting in the Ethiopian capital recently, she said, and will be presented to African leaders for ratification at a summit in July.
“They point to potential benefits like improved infrastructure, taxation and provision of health facilities and outline how communities should be involved themselves in the production side,” Tumusiime said.
She added that “multiplier” industries such as beef-processing plants should be set up on the continent by foreign companies to create jobs for locals.
Commenting on one estimate that as many as a million Chinese farmers could be working in Africa by next year, the commissioner said such a large number of foreign farmers would be “catastrophic” and could cause political instability.
“It has happened already in some countries where foreign investors came and the local population was not consulted,” she said. “Then land is taken and it can even cause riots so we need more organization to put an end to so many coming in.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says private investment to develop agriculture in poorer countries is urgently needed if the world is to double food output by 2050 and stamp out hunger that still afflicts about one billion people.
Congo Republic Wants Farmers
South African farmers have been offered 10 million hectares of farmland to grow maize, soya beans as well as poultry and dairy farming in the Republic of Congo, South Africa’s main farmers’ union said April 15.
Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA) told Reuters that the deal, which he said could be one of the biggest land agreements on the continent so far, was part of Congo’s government plan to improve food security.
“They’ve given us 10 million hectares, and that’s quite big when you consider that in South Africa we have about six million hectares of land that is arable,” De Jager told Reuters on the sidelines of an agriculture conference in Durban.