By Gisele Henriques*)
At the 10th World Social Forum, the issue of land grabbing has undoubtedly emerged as one of the most discussed among the hundreds of civil society organisations which have come to Dakar to mobilise and share experiences on their respective struggles. Official data on land grabbing and its magnitude remains elusive and the actual numbers of hectares involved is contested. The FAO estimates that of the land grabs taking place today about 70% is occurring in Africa, the same continent facing the greatest food security challenges. In response CIDSE member Misereor, together with Caritas Senegal, FIAN and NAD sponsored a three day event with partners from Africa, Asia and Latin America, to expose the realities behind this phenomenon and the consequences for local communities.
There are various forces driving the scramble for land. Mining and appropriation of forest resources are not particularly new occurrences. Neither is the acquisition of land by international corporations for plantations, such actions were common in Latin America in the 70s and 80s. What is different now is the rate in which it is happening and the fact that land grabbing is being sanctioned in the name of supporting a green economy. Evidence suggests that one third of the land grabs today are going for the production of agro-fuels, most notably jatropha, maize and sugar for ethanol. These will be supplied to meet the EU’s commitment of blending at least 10% agro-fuels to reduce the use of non-renewable energy sources. According to Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies in South Africa, some 5 million hectares have already been grabbed in Africa, to satiate Europe’s thirst for ‘green’ energy. Whilst reduced dependence on non-renewable energy sources is a worthy cause, the commitment has created a business for agro-fuels. This business is having disastrous consequences for small farmers who are being pushed off their land and loosing access to their resources, livelihoods and capacity to feed themselves. It is estimated that the amount of corn used to fill a 4x4 could feed an adult for a year.
In addition to agro-fuel production which displaces food production, oil rich nations and Asian economic powers like China and Korea, are acquiring land to produce food for their own populations. The World Bank estimates that 37% of all the land grabbed globally is going to supply these markets. The land grabbing process is largely legal and is usually sanctioned by governments, who have been encouraged to attract foreign investment if they are to develop”. Globally, there is a generally accepted notion that Africa is a “sleeping giant”, a continent not yet maximizing its economic potential. Land is widely deemed as an abundant resource which could be traded and commoditized to meet the demands of the international market, in turn eradicating poverty in the continent. Evidence suggests just the opposite is taking place. Small farmers, who are deemed unproductive by their government, are finding themselves squeezed off their land and forced into contract servitude. This so-called, ‘empty and vast’ territory is actually their land, which they steward for future generations. Examples for Madagascar, DRC, Benin, Uganda, Nepal, Cambodia, Brazil and Argentina demonstrate that this phenomenon is taking place all over the world.
*) Gisele Henriques is CIDSE Policy and Advocacy Officer on Food, Agriculture and Sustainable Trade (FAST)