Thursday, June 30, 2011

The new African land grab

Smallholder farms are disappearing across Africa because of large-scale foreign investment [EPA] 

Foreign investors, with the World Bank, are acquiring vast tracks of land in Africa - at the expense of local farmers

by Joan Baxter, as reported by Aljazeera 

The "town" chief of the village seemed to be in a state of shock.

Sitting on the front porch of his mud and thatch home in Pujehun District in southern Sierra Leone, he struggled to find words that could explain how he had signed away the land that sustained his family and his community. 

He said he was coerced by his Paramount Chief, told that whether he agreed, or not, his land would still be taken and his small oil palm stand destroyed. He didn't know the name of the foreign investor nor did he know that it planned to lease up to 35,000 hectares of farmland in the area to establish massive oil palm and rubber plantations.
Haltingly, he said that without his land, he might as well take his leave of the village. By that he meant that he was as good as dead.
This is a ground-level view of a large land deal in Africa, where in recent years foreign investors have acquired tens of millions of hectares of farmland. In 2009 alone, the World Bank estimates that around the world foreign investors acquired about 56 million hectares of farmland - an area about the size of France - by long-term lease or by purchase. Farmland has become a favourite "new asset" class for private investors; "like gold, only better" according to Capital & Crisis.
The World Bank has its own term for the new global land rush. It calls it "agro-investment" and has developed seven voluntary principles to make the land deals "responsible".
Critics of the phenomenon - farmers' movements, human rights, civil society, women's and environmental organisations, and many scientists - call it "land grabbing". They say there is no way that the taking over vast areas of smallholder farmland and transforming it into giant industrial plantations and agribusiness operations can ever be "responsible".

They argue that land grabs are throwing millions of farming families and indigenous peoples off their land. They say that it's not just land that's being grabbed, but also precious water resources.
The investors are hedge funds, private equity funds (that are attracting even prestigious American universities with their promises of high returns), pension funds, banks, multinational corporations, and sovereign wealth funds seeking to sow capital and grow profits. They are also Middle Eastern and Asian nations anxious to secure their own future food security in the face of climate change, with dwindling water resources and arable land.
An estimated 70 per cent of the demand for farmland is in Africa, where land is cheap and traditional communal ownership makes people particularly vulnerable. Sometimes this can be done for the cost of a few gifts to traditional chiefs and grandiose promises of bringing "development".
Since 2009, in the wake of the food, fuel and financial crises of 2007-2008, the rush for farmland has only accelerated. But it's impossible to know just how much more of Africa's fertile land has now been taken by investors.

Corruption and profit
Recent in-depth research by the US-based Oakland Institute of land deals in seven African countries found that most of the land deals lack transparency, making it almost impossible to calculate their total area. Lack of transparency is a great enabler of corruption.
Yet "transparency, good governance, and a proper enabling environment" is one of the seven principles laid out by the World Bank for "responsible agro-investment". The Oakland Institute found that most of the land deals do not respect any of these principles.
This is ironic, to say the least.

More than any other institution or agency, the World Bank Group has been promoting direct foreign investment in Africa, and enabling the farmland rush. Its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with its Foreign Investment Advisory Service and its program to Remove Administrative Barriers to Investment, has been working - often behind the scenes - to ensure that African countries reform their land laws and fiscal regimes to make them attractive to foreign investors.

The World Bank Group has funded almost identical investment promotion agencies - "one-stop-shops" - in countries across the continent. It places people in strategic government ministries - even presidential offices - as private sector advisors.
The investment promotion agencies are developing and advertising a veritable smorgasbord of incentives not just to attract foreign investment in farmland but also to ensure maximum profits to investors. These include extremely generous tax holidays for 10 or even 30 years, zero per cent duty on imports, and easy access to very large tracts of land, sometimes over 100,000 hectares. Investors may pay just a couple of dollars per hectare per year for the land, and in Mali, sometimes no land rent at all.
The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency, boasts about the extremely low labour rates and flexible labour laws in the country and about other privileges it accords investors - 100 per cent foreign ownership in all sectors, full repatriation of profits, dividends and royalties, no limits on expatriate employees.
Such giveaways cast doubt on claims by African governments, and others trying to defend the land deals, that this kind of "agricultural investment" will solve unemployment, generate revenue for cash-strapped governments, reduce the dependence on aid, and bring economic development.
In this race to the bottom, African governments are also encouraged by the World Bank Group to outdo each other when it comes to protecting investors. Each year, it grades African on investor protection in its "Doing Business" report cards, praising countries that move up in the rankings in what an IFC official admits is a "horse race".
This means that low-income and food-deficit African countries, some still struggling to rebuild after long conflicts, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, find themselves competing with each other to offer foreign investors ever sweeter deals on their arable land, so desperately needed for local food production.
The investment promotion agencies quote figures for the vast amounts of "uncultivated" or under-utilised" land in their countries, often without offering any recent land use studies to back up these figures or a thought for the millions of people who depend on that land for their livelihoods.

Nor do they take into consideration the crucial importance of small family farms, which employ more than half the people and produce 80 per cent of the food on the continent. Smallholder farms tend to be extremely biodiverse, involving fallow periods to protect and restore soils and water resources.

Not in Africa to help
Conspicuously absent in the talk about the purported benefits of the land deals is serious discussion of protection of local people, human and environmental health, water resources, biodiversity, human rights, food security, and free prior informed consent of the affected communities.

As the Oakland Institute research shows, many of the land deals are for enormous plantations of palm oil and sugarcane for agrofuels, or for the production of cut flowers and a handful of staple crops - all for export.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has just released a "new paradigm" for agriculture, called "Save and Grow". Echoing other recent major studies, it finds that agro-ecological agriculture that emphasises conservation of soil and water resources and reduced use of agrochemicals can "enable low-income farm families in developing countries - some 2.5 billion people - to maximise yields and invest the savings in their health and education."

It states unequivocally that the industrial agricultural model of the Green Revolution, involving monocultures, high-yielding [commercial] crop varieties, heavy use of agrochemicals and mechanisation and irrigation, has "degraded fertile land and depleted groundwater, provoked pest upsurges, eroded biodiversity, and polluted air, soil and water."

And yet this unsustainable industrial agricultural model is the one being promoted by many African governments, donor agencies and foreign investors.
African farmers, left high and dry by their own governments during the decades of austerity programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, do need investment and support. They desperately need decent roads and access to local markets, processing equipment to add value to their own diverse farm produce, storage and drying facilities to prevent post-harvest losses, and basic amenities such as schools and health centres and water wells to improve rural lives, so that farming communities can thrive.
But foreign investors are not in business to provide any of these things. They are not in Africa to help impoverished African farmers improve their own farms, or to combat hunger. They are far more likely to destroy the family farm in Africa and aggravate hunger, all in the name of economies of scale, a global corporate food chain, and profits.
The same actors - the speculators, bankers, unregulated investors - who have had a hand in inflating food prices and bringing the global economy to its knees are now consolidating control of global food production and of land, to profit from the very crises they provoked.
It is beyond tragic that so many of them have set their sights on the new "asset class" of African farmland - which is the very asset on which hundreds of millions of Africans depend for their livelihoods and their survival.


Joan Baxter is a Senior Research Fellow with the Oakland Institute and author of its investigative reports on land deals in Sierra Leone and Mali. She is a journalist, award-winning author, and development researcher who has lived and worked in Africa for more than 25 years.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The great Indian land grab

In India, the state forcibly acquires land from farmers and hands it over to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies and leisure industries [EPA]

India's war on farmers

Land is a powerful commodity that should be used for the betterment of humanity through farming and ecology.

By Vandana Shiva (as reported by Aljazeera)

"The Earth upon which the sea, and the rivers and waters, upon which food and the tribes of man have arisen, upon which this breathing, moving life exists, shall afford us precedence in drinking."
- Prithvi Sukta, Atharva Veda

Land is life. It is the basis of livelihoods for peasants and indigenous people across the Third World and is also becoming the most vital asset in the global economy. As the resource demands of globalisation increase, land has emerged as a key source of conflict. In India, 65 per cent of people are dependent on land. At the same time a global economy, driven by speculative finance and limitless consumerism, wants the land for mining and for industry, for towns, highways, and biofuel plantations. The speculative economy of global finance is hundreds of times larger than the value of real goods and services produced in the world.
Financial capital is hungry for investments and returns on investments. It must commodify everything on the planet - land and water, plants and genes, microbes and mammals. The commodification of land is fuelling the corporate land grab in India, both through the creation of Special Economic Zones and through foreign direct investment in real estate.
Land, for most people in the world, is Terra Madre, Mother Earth, Bhoomi, Dharti Ma. The land is people's identity; it is the ground of culture and economy. The bond with the land is a bond with Bhoomi, our Earth; 75 per cent of the people in the Third World live on the land and are supported by the land. The Earth is the biggest employer on the planet: 75 per cent of the wealth of the people of the global south is in land.
Colonisation was based on the violent takeover of land. And now, globalisation as recolonisation is leading to a massive land grab in India, in Africa, in Latin America. Land is being grabbed for speculative investment, for speculative urban sprawl, for mines and factories, for highways and expressways. Land is being grabbed from farmers after trapping them in debt and pushing them to suicide.

India's land issues
In India, the land grab is facilitated by the toxic mixture of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the deregulation of investments and commerce through neo-liberal policies - and with it the emergence of the rule of uncontrolled greed and exploitation. It is facilitated by the creation of a police state and the use of colonial sedition laws which define defence of the public interest and national interest as anti-national.
The World Bank has worked for many years to commodify land. The 1991 World Bank structural adjustment programme reversed land reform, deregulated mining, roads and ports. While the laws of independent India to keep land in the hands of the tiller were reversed, the 1894 Land Acquisition Act was untouched.
Thus the state could forcibly acquire the land from the peasants and tribal peoples and hand it over to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies and industry.
Across the length and breadth of India, from Bhatta in Uttar Pradesh (UP) to Jagatsinghpur in Orissa to Jaitapur in Maharashtra, the government has declared war on our farmers, our annadatas, in order to grab their fertile farmland.
Their instrument is the colonial Land Acquisition Act - used by foreign rulers against Indian citizens. The government is behaving as the foreign rulers did when the Act was first enforced in 1894, appropriating land through violence for the profit of corporations - JayPee Infratech in Uttar Pradesh for the Yamuna expressway, POSCO in Orissa and AREVA in Jaitapur - grabbing land for private profit and not, by any stretch of the imagination, for any public purpose. This is rampant in the country today.
These land wars have serious consequences for our nation's democracy, our peace and our ecology, our food security and rural livelihoods. The land wars must stop if India is to survive ecologically and democratically.
While the Orissa government prepares to take the land of people in Jagatsinghpur, people who have been involved in a democratic struggle against land acquisition since 2005, Rahul Gandhi makes it known that he stands against forceful land acquisition in a similar case in Bhatta in Uttar Pradesh. The Minister for the Environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, admitted that he gave the green signal to pass the POSCO project - reportedly under great pressure. One may ask: "Pressure from whom?" This visible double standard when it comes to the question of land in the country must stop.

Violation of the land
In Bhatta Parsual, Greater Noida (UP), about 6000 acres of land is being acquired by infrastructure company Jaiprakash Associates to build luxury townships and sports facilities - including a Formula 1 racetrack - in the guise of building the Yamuna Expressway. In total, the land of 1225 villages is to be acquired for the 165km Expressway. The farmers have been protesting this unjust land acquisition, and last week, four people died - while many were injured during a clash between protesters and the police on May 7, 2011. If the government continues its land wars in the heart of India's bread basket, there will be no chance for peace.
In any case, money cannot compensate for the alienation of land. As 80-year-old Parshuram, who lost his land to the Yamuna Expressway, said: "You will never understand how it feels to become landless."
While land has been taken from farmers at Rs 300 ($6) per square metre by the government - using the Land Acquistion Act - it is sold by developers at Rs 600,000 ($13,450) per square metre - a 2,000 per cent increase in price - and hence profits. This land grab and the profits contribute to poverty, dispossession and conflict.
Similarly, on April 18, in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, police opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrating against the Nuclear Power Park proposed for a village adjacent to the small port town. One person died and at least eight were seriously injured. The Jaitapur nuclear plant will be the biggest in the world and is being built by French company AREVA. After the Fukushima disaster, the protest has intensified - as has the government's stubbornness.
Today, a similar situation is brewing in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, where 20 battalions have been deployed to assist in the anti-constitutional land acquisition to protect the stake of India's largest foreign direct investment - the POSCO Steel project. The government has set the target of destroying 40 betel farms a day to facilitate the land grab. The betel brings the farmers an annual earning of Rs 400,000 ($9,000) an acre. The Anti-POSCO movement, in its five years of peaceful protest, has faced state violence numerous time and is now gearing up for another - perhaps final - non-violent and democratic resistance against a state using violence to facilitate its undemocratic land grab for corporate profits, overlooking due process and the constitutional rights of the people.
The largest democracy of the world is destroying its democratic fabric through its land wars. While the constitution recognises the rights of the people and the panchayats [village councils] to democratically decide the issues of land and development, the government is disregarding these democratic decisions - as is evident from the POSCO project where three panchayats have refused to give up their land.
The use of violence and destruction of livelihoods that the current trend is reflecting is not only dangerous for the future of Indian democracy, but for the survival of the Indian nation state itself. Considering that today India may claim to be a growing or booming economy - but yet is unable feed more than 40 per cent of its children is a matter of national shame.
Land is not about building concrete jungles as proof of growth and development; it is the progenitor of food and water, a basic for human survival. It is thus clear: what India needs today is not a land grab policy through an amended colonial land acquisition act but a land conservation policy, which conserves our vital eco-systems, such as the fertile Gangetic plain and coastal regions, for their ecological functions and contribution to food security.
Handing over fertile land to private corporations, who are becoming the new zamindars [heriditary aristocrats], cannot be defined as having a public purpose. Creating multiple privatised super highways and expressways does not qualify as necessary infrastructure. The real infrastructure India needs is the ecological infrastructure for food security and water security. Burying our fertile food-producing soils under concrete and factories is burying the country's future.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers' rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993.