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Mar 7, 2010

Foreign "Land Grab" in Africa - Rich Countries Secure Against Food Shortages

The Observer in London published an investigation from the horn of Africa covering the ongoing "land grab" in Africa.  It estimates that close to "50 million hectares of land, an area more than double the size of the United Kingdom" has been acquired or leased to foreign governments and investors.  The article based its estimates on data from Grain, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Land Coalition, ActionAid and other non-governmental groups.

One of the countries impacted is Ethiopia, home to some hungriest people on Earth.  While it has "more than 13 million people needing food aid," its government has granted at "least 3 million hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations."

The article describes a journey to the construction site of Awassa greenhouses.  It is located just "below an escarpment of the Rift Valley ... plastic and steel structure already stretches over 20 hectares – the size of 20 football pitches. ... The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 500m rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tonnes of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East."

Awassa greenhouses are located on "1,000 hectares of land leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people."

Also leading the land grab are "international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world's cheapest land." 

Countries impacted include: Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Ghana.
The biggest buyers are Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern emirate states such as Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.  In addition securing land, Saudi Arabia is also "securing itself the equivalent of hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce water a year. Water, says the UN, will be the defining resource of the next 100 years."

Land is also being acquired by European companies to develop biofuels.  According to Tim Rice, author of ActionAid report, "European biofuel companies have acquired or requested about 3.9m hectares in Africa. This has led to displacement of people, lack of consultation and compensation, broken promises about wages and job opportunities."  ... In order to meet the EU 10% biofuel target by 2015, "EU companies will need to grow crops on 17.5m hectares, well over half the size of Italy. ... The biofuel land grab in Africa is already displacing farmers and food production. The number of people going hungry will increase."

Others acquiring are: 1) British firms purchasing land in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to grow flowers and vegetables; and 2) Indian companies buying or leasing land in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique to grow rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils.

According to Susan Payne, chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, a UK investment fund seeking to spend $50m on African land, "[f]armland in sub-Saharan Africa is giving 25% returns a year and new technology can treble crop yields in short time frames."
Oromia (depicted in the map above) is at in the heart of the land grab.  Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromia studies' association sent a letter of protest to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.  It noted that "India had acquired 1m hectares, Djibouti 10,000 hectares, Saudi Arabia 100,000 hectares, and that Egyptian, South Korean, Chinese, Nigerian and other Arab investors were all active in the state. .. This is the new, 21st-century colonisation. The Saudis are enjoying the rice harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak."

Photo Credit: "Elisa Alimone Mongue,mother and farmer,Mozambique. Her land was taken by a biofuel company" courtesy of James Oatway/Panos in Tim Rice, Meals Per Gallon published by ActionAid (see reference below).

For more see:
 Vidal, John. "How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab; An Observer investigation reveals how rich countries faced by a global food shortage now farm an area double the size of the UK to guarantee supplies for their citizens," The Observer/The Guardian Online, 7 May 2010.

Rice, Tim. Meals Per Gallon; The Impact of Industrial Biofuels on People and Hunger. London: ActionAid, January 2010.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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