Land grabs could fuel unrest

Rome - Big purchases of African land by richer countries in a drive for food security could fuel unrest if the rights of local farmers are not taken into consideration, a land rights campaigner warned on Wednesday.


Madiodio Niasse, director of the International Land Coalition – which
brings together inter-governmental organisations and civil society
groups to promote land rights in poor nations – said there was a
general lack of transparency in international land transactions that
needed to be addressed.

Middle Eastern countries flush with oil cash but also Asian nations
worried about their food security have begun buying large swathes of
farmland abroad after a supply scare last year drove prices of most
food items to record highs.

"Since the middle of 2008, there has been this huge international trend
of purchasing land abroad. Our fear is that if it’s not organised and
regulated, it will have counterproductive effects and could lead to
social unrest," Niasse told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia’s Hail Agricultural Development Co this week announced it
had acquired farming land in Sudan to plant wheat, corn, soy and
livestock feed in a project that could be worth $45m.

South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics is pursuing a massive corn plantation
project in Madagascar, although it said last week that it may have to
be delayed due to the country’s political instability and weak
commodity prices.

Land transactions

Without referring to any particular deal, Niasse said the terms of many
such land transactions, and who would benefit from them, were not clear
and information about them was "not available".

"Is the land in question empty or do people live on it? Where is the
irrigation water coming from, how is the plantation going to be
developed, who will work on it, where will the money go? There is no
transparency at all," he said on the sidelines of a meeting of the
United Nations farm agency IFAD in Rome.

While the inflow of foreign money and technology know-how could help
increase the low productivity of African farmlands, Niasse said a code
of conduct was needed to make sure local farmers were involved in any
development project.

"It has to be a guided process, the local people affected have to be
consulted and considered. We want a win-win situation where these
projects can generate employment and give African farmers access to
modern seeds, technological support and credit," he said.

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