“Is it obscene to get European farmers to move to
poor countries and feed the hungry?” A delegate in a recent European
Landowners’ forum asked. To send mercenary farmers to Africa in the
guise of fighting hunger is absolutely obscene. Famine is used to hold
Africa’s 'bottom billion' at ransom by wealthy nations.
Developed and re-emerging economies are already at
it once more. South Korea is keen to lease a million hectares in
Madagascar; Qatar is seeking 100,000 hectares in Kenya; Saudi Arabia is
targeting over 9,000 hectares in Sudan; a New York based firm is keen
to lease 400,000 hectares in Southern Sudan; a British firm bought
45,000 hectares in Tanzania; a Swedish firm is negotiating a 100,000
hectare lease in Tanzania; a Germany company purchased over 13,000
hectares of land in Ethiopia and… the list goes on.
All these land grabbing sprees pass in sanitized
names such as ‘foreign investment,’ and ‘developing empty land to
increase yields.' The re-invention of the old colonial strategy that
came to Africa in the name of “civilization” to that of helping fix
perennial famine challenges fails to address reasons why African
farmers cannot feed the continent in the first place.
In cases where communities with superior farming
technologies lease land from governments on the continent; they do not
recognize existing disputes between communities and the said
governments that has led to the huge chunks of “idle” land.
In cases where individual African landowners lease out the land;
analysts do not probe why international banks are quick to finance
outsiders with agro loans to feed Africa and produce bio-fuels as
opposed to financing indigenous entrepreneurs.
Land leases in poor countries address the symptom
rather than the actual disease. For example in Africa; the leases are
negotiated with organizations (governments) which have never been
reformed to achieve legitimacy from the governed. Such lease agreements
do not address the interests of the farmers, especially why farmers in
poor countries cannot competitively produce to feed themselves and the
rest of the world. To send in mercenary farmers is to perpetuate the
prejudiced notion that those who have shall be added; but for
those who do not have, even the little they have shall be taken
Europe, United States of America, and Japan among
others have received a series of petitions on the negative impact of
their farm subsidies on African agriculture. Ever since independence,
prices for African commodities ranging from agricultural to minerals
have always been set by Western countries thereby impacting negatively
on the quest for sustained growth, value addition and bargaining power.
Policy makers from the West have in the last five decades reminded
Africans on the dearth of leadership on the continent. What makes the
Western leadership suddenly assume that Africa has finally gotten the
right leaders to negotiate ceding of land to their farmers?
The surge towards acquiring African lands to feed
people in re-emerging economies buttresses the fact that famine on the
continent is an artificial problem. Developed and re-emerging economy
elites are ganging up with short term focused African elites to rob
farmers of the ability to feed the continent. African farmers are
starved of financing and technology and enslaved by trading regimes
that makes it difficult for them to access national, regional and
The quest to lease land from Africa is a strong
signal that there exists great demand for the continent’s agricultural
produce. It is imperative that African governments take advantage of
this, not by leasing out land- but by providing a framework to increase
productivity in the farming sector. It is also extremely urgent to
review land policies inherited from colonial governments in order to
give power to Africans to utilize their land for their benefit and the
benefit of the rest of the World.
The short term aspect of leasing out land will be to
generate revenue for the sustenance of the political elites. The long
term effect will be to sustain the psychological rape on the African
mind that has for over five centuries made him/her to believe that an
African has no ability to confront daily challenges. In the final
analysis, the leasing spree is setting up the continent for another
stage of violent episodes as the continent’s citizenry remain mere
spectators at the market place.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
Comment on this article!