Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are the "land grabbers" really so bad?

This week Oxfam released a new report on land grabbing with a huge media echo. Oxfam warn from the land grabbers. A good overview of this report can be found under this link:
I guess a lot said in this report is right, land grabbing is a risk for African country if the contract between the government and the foreign investor is not well done. What Oxfam omits saying is that foreign investment could be a great solution for the "African green revolution" and put an end to food insecurity but only if the contracts are well done. Such a contract should regulate how the foreign investor :

  1. makes sure that a displaced people get a new decent livelihood, by for example working on the commercial farm at a decent wage (let say at least above the poverty line of 2 dollar a day)
  2. insure that workers for the commercial farm have decent working conditions
  3. is allowed to export products, only the productivity gain reached through industrialization of agriculture is allowed to leave the country. This is to not increase food insecurity.
  4. invests into the infrastructure, like the road, airport  but also the local supply chain
  5. monitors environmental pressure and makes sure to not overuse the natural resources
  6. invests into health care and education of the employees and the community surrounding
  7. finally compensates the government for the land 

Where Oxfam is right, is that none of the contract nowadays do regulate all theses points, and therefore the local communities are the looser of deals. But who is to blame? the land grabbers?
Oxfam did a case study in Uganda, where local communities lost their livelihoods because of a timber company as a show case showing how land grabbers do bad. Based on this Aljazeera made a reportage and interviewed both the "land grabber" and Oxfam. It shows that the situation is very complex :
the community deforested the area illegally for growing crop. By doing so the community increases the erosion potential of the whole area, water infiltration reduces and in the mid term soil fertility deceases to a point where no one can leave from agriculture anymore.
So in my opinion, the Ugandan government did a smart move : letting a foreign investor in to afforest the whole area and let this company manage the forest in a sustainable way and sell the timber on international market. The watershed can then be maintained and prevent desertification.
The bad side of the story is, that these people who made a living on the illegally cleared area, have even less than before and are likely to move somewhere else and deforest another place, or just be the next community depending of food aid.
What the Aljazeera reportage shows, is that the land grabber was ready to compensate the community and to find solutions for them. But it is the Ugandan government who refused. As it was illegal landholding, these communities are not entitled for compensation.
Somehow, all the cases of land grabbing I came across in my fields in Ethiopia and through the media elsewhere bring me to the same conclusion. It is always a very complex situation and it is time that the African government understand that they have the negotiation power. It is upon them to come up with the contract.

So instead of pointing at the land grabbers, wouldn't it be smarter to arise awareness of the governments and help them to formulate the better contract? (or is it already to late?)
(if you cannot watch it directly you can find the film under

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