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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Africans saving Africa - Witness - Al Jazeera English

For the Ethiopian New Year, here is a very interesting documentary on how an Ethiopian agricultural economist started a project in which farmers rehabilitated their land and turned a desert into agricultural land!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ethiopian strawberries in your supermarket?

I lately reported a lot from the Amhara region, near to Tana Lake. It is one of the high potential area for agriculture. Most of the crops are rainfed and productivity is low. Dry spells are the major reasons for crop failure. That's one of the reasons, why the Nile Basin Challenge Program is doing research there.
During my stay in Bahir Dar, I discovered that up until then I had missed out one of the major dynamics of the area. I met a rich Nigerian who came to the area for acquiring land in this area for commercial farming. It is just another "land grabber". As this is in still one of my favorite topics, I ended up having a discussion with him.
He acquired land in the dryer parts of the region, but next to a river. He will plant strawberries, and irrigate them with the water from the nearby river. I was pretty puzzled, as strawberries have a relatively short supply chain (need to reach the customer fast). Though Bahir Dar is well connected by road and air within Ethiopia, the infrastructure to reach international market are still lacking.
What i discovered is that the Bahir Dar airport, that is currently in reconstruction, is meant to become "Bahir Dar International Airport", and soon bigger planes will be able to land, including those containing the cooling system to export strawberries abroad. The Nigerian investor mentioned that he has contacts to Dubai and that this will be his first market, but ultimately he wants to reach the European market... It might be a matter of time until you will see the Ethiopian strawberries in supermarkets around the world.

Ethiopia feeding the world? In these famine time an unimaginable vision... but it could be possible. It crucially depends on how commercial farming develops and to what extend the "land grabbers" also think in terms of food security in Ethiopia.

Agricultural productivity is so low in the Ethiopian highlands, though it is located in a high potential areas. If foreign investors bring in the badly needed capital and the infrastructure to increase agricultural productivity, and if only the additional quantity of food produced is exported, then the vision of an well fed Ethiopia feeding the world is possible.

The only question that remains is : are the contracts offered by the Ethiopian government to the foreign investors smart or are they just short term maximizing profit? Do they insure that local population earns above the poverty line? Will local population have a viable livelihood? Do the foreign investor also invest in education and health? Is only the surplus of production exported? Do they insure the sustainability of agriculture (soil fertility and water resources)? Is national food security insured?

Bad or good, it is a matter of time until you will see Ethiopian fresh products in supermarket around the world, hopefully we will not forget to feed the Ethiopian population first.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa: Challenges and Opportunities for Mitigating Drought-Induced Food Crises

Today, the CGIAR (consultative group on International Agricultural Research) hold a media briefing over the famine in the Horn of Africa to discuss evidence based intervention in arid areas.

One of the key topic that was addressed is the role of vulnerability of the farmers of the Horn of Africa and how to make this farmer more resilient and able to cope with shocks, such as for example drought. Topic addressed where :
- market access and market information
- information about weather and location of fodder
- improve fodder for livestock
- veterinary services for livestock
- drought tolerant crops
- water storage for crop, livestock and domestic use
- food aid, and information systems to inform about where food surpluses are
- weather insurances

The whole discussion reminds us that there is no such a thing than one simple solution. Every place is different, in location like Somalia with very little rainfall, it does not make sense to talk about irrigation schemes. Livestock provides more food security that crop. Whereas in areas with more rainfall, agro-ecological specific drought resistant crops be made available in affordable small packages can make more sense.

If you got curious, look at the full debate :