Following the recent food crisis and because of the high volatility of food prices in particular, the occurrence of massive purchases of agricultural land has escalated1. A the request of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a new study2 was conducted by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Based on onsite research carried out in eight African nations3, the survey highlights the large scope of transactions: For the past five years, investors rushed in to acquire 2.41 million hectares (5.95 million acres) in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and Sudan. According to the report, land prices are very low: in North Sudan, the “feddan” (0.42 hectare or 1.03 acre) can be leased for between two or three dollars a year and in Ethiopia, one hectare (2.47 acres) is worth between three and ten dollars.
Far from denouncing these investments, whose consequences can be positive in some cases, the report nevertheless warns about the dangers of such land grabs. It also indicates that even if these transactions can generate opportunities (secured markets, job creation, new infrastructures and increased agricultural productivity), they can also cause harm if local populations are kept out of the decision-making process and their land rights are not protected.
Indeed, goals of short-term financial gains from land deals between investors and governments must not be made at the expense of food security for the local populations, seventy percent of who are farmers. Depriving farmers from their land is not necessarily the solution.
1 Please see momagri’s article of November 24, 2008, “Renting the land: A new development lever for poor countries?” http://www.momagri.org/UK/A-look-at-the-news/Renting-the-land-a-new-development-lever-for-poor-countries-_391.html
2 “Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa”, IIED report of May 2009.
3 Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan and Zambia.