By Marline Gay, 2011 Summer Intern
Farmers across Africa and the developing world are left stunned as they are commanded off their land by domestic governments and foreign investors. Many of them are surprised to learn that in most cases, the title to the land that their families have lived on for generations is exclusively vested in the state.These farmers are displaced from their land, often times without compensation, as the government leases vast plots of their most fertile and arable lands to private and foreign investors at negligible prices. Since private land ownership is prohibited in many African nations, these areas are classified as state lands. Because of this, governments lease inhabited lands in secretly negotiated business deals without any consultation with the local people. This practice, called land grabbing, often results in contracts that are poorly executed and fail to adequately protect citizens’ rights, economic and political interests, land, and resources.
Though the history of land grabbing is intimately linked with colonialism and imperialism, the global average for such deals was less than ten million acres per year before 2008. However, the global food crisis of 2007 and 2008 prompted many wealthy nations, which lacked the land resources needed for agriculture, to lease more arable land suitable for cultivation in other countries.
An oil-wealthy African nation founded a company to produce rice and other agricultural products in a poor neighboring country for exportation. A treaty was signed between the two nations in June of 2009 leasing 100,000 hectares (~ 247,105 ac) of arable land for 50 years. According to the treaty, the company is leasing the land “free from any juridical constraints or individual or collective property that hinders the exploitation of the land.” All of the food produced by the company will be exported for the improvement of food security in the more affluent nation, not for the improvement of the domestic food supply in the smaller impoverished nation.
The United Nations and the World Bank contend that foreign direct investments (FDI), if done equitably, could benefit the growing population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it. However, these foreign investors are not obligated by contract to provide jobs for the local population or induce economic stability to the area. And, they are not obligated to maintain any infrastructure that is built or any developments made to the land at the termination of the lease.
While there might be potential positive results of these FDIs, such as increased political relations with the governments of the countries involved and the possibility of some local employment, the negative impacts far outweigh these potential positive outcomes. Even if the foreign investor chooses to hire several local people, it will not counterbalance the income generation opportunities destroyed by the project. The land is a resource that 70 percent of the population uses to survive. The leasing and subsequent exploitation of this land is guaranteed to have several negative outcomes for the local people, including the expropriation and eviction of tens of thousands of individuals from their homes and lands, abuse of natural resources, loss of farmlands, and desertification.
Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation; everyone has the right to the protection of law against such interference or attacks.” Article 17 declares that “everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others; no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
Is land grabbing a human rights issue that needs to be addressed by humanitarian organizations, or is it mainly the result of incompetent, corrupt, or desperate governments entering into non-beneficial deals with foreign investors? Does land grabbing further exacerbate current human rights issues in the developing world? Are we witnessing a second “scramble for Africa”?
For more information regarding Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Land in Mali: http://www2.gtz.de/wbf/4tDx9kw63gma/gtz2010-0064en-foreign-direct-investment-mali.pdf
For more information regarding land rights: http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/land-rights-issue
For daily news reports regarding the global rush to buy farmlands: http://farmlandgrab.org/
For information regarding land laws in specific countries: http://usaidlandtenure.net/usaidltprproducts/country-profiles
To see a copy of the legal contract made between foreign investors in India and the government of Ethiopia: http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/Karuturi-Agreement.pdf
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author and do not reflect the views and representations of the International Justice Project.