Real imperialism – the new power cartography remaps Africa

Modernity writes:

Stealing land is not new, but this particular fashion of buying up chunks of African land can only be called imperialism, the Guardian reports:

“Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.

This month the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season.

Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.

Local government officers have denied claims that people are being forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.[…]

Ashwin Parulkar writes:

Al Amoudi is not alone in seeing the vast Ethiopian plains as cheap, fertile property ripe for investment. During the past six years, as global food and oil price increases made it more expensive to import food, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states began investing in earnest in Ethiopia and Sudan—in excess of $75 billion from 2005 to 2009, according to the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. The largest land investor among the Gulf States, the United Arab Emirates, now controls over 1,100 square miles of farmland in Sudan.

India has also emerged as a major player in African agriculture. Last year, Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture, Tefera Deribew, visited India to announce his government’s intention to offer 4.4 million acres of farmland to Indian agro-enterprises. According to the government of India, the country’s private sector has already invested more than $4 billion in farmland located in other countries. The first to do so in Ethiopia was Karuturi Global, an Indian-based agri-business known primarily for producing cut roses. In 2010, it acquired a lease for 740,000 acres in Gambella to farm wheat, maize, and rice. Groups of Punjabi farmers are currently negotiating a deal with the Ethiopian government to lease 250,000 acres at astonishingly low rates—$3.60 per acre per year, for 25 to 40 years, with the first five years rent-free.

These deals are part of a land grab taking place all across Africa, a transfer of control unprecedented in the post-colonial era. According to a World Bank report released in January, 48 percent of all land deals struck worldwide between October 2008 and August 2009 involved land in sub-Saharan African countries.

The pace of acquisitions has been stunning. September, a World Bank report revealed that in 2009, some 111 million acres of farmland was acquired globally by foreign investors—nearly 75 percent of it in sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to 2008, foreign investors only acquired an average of 10 million acres per year.

India’s minister of commerce has said:

“While the current volume of India-Africa trade stands at $45 billion, we have set a target of $70 billion for 2015. I am confident we will achieve that,” he added.

Modernity continues:

The Torygraph reported on this phenomena in 2009:

“Indian farming companies have bought hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils for their own domestic market back in India.

Its government has given soft loans as aid to support the overseas ventures in what has been described as a challenge to China and Saudi Arabia in the new scramble for Africa. China, South Korea, and a several Arab countries have led the way in creating new African mega-farms to outsource domestic food production and use cheaper labour.

Critics have described the development as modern “piracy” and “land grabbing” from countries that have in the past been blighted by famine and severe food shortages.

South Korea has bought just under 700,000 hectares in Sudan, while Saudi Arabia has signed a deal for 500,000 hectares in Tanzania.”

Among the drivers for the new scramble for Africa are food commodity price rises and the related economics of monoculture agribusiness around foods like palm oil, which is an increasingly ubiquitous ingredient in the world’s diet, despite the ecological devastation it causes. Here’s The Ecologist reporting on one example:

Indonesia’s move to bring in a two-year moratorium on new palm oil plantations to protect its remaining rainforests has seen agribusiness giants like Sime Darby switch expansion plans to Cameroon, Ghana and Liberia

The sudden upsurge in land deals by palm oil companies in Africa could lead to large-scale deforestation and loss of farmland by local communities, NGOs and environmental groups in Africa have told the Ecologist.

The world’s largest palm oil producer Indonesia is due to implement a two-year ban on granting new concessions of land to plantation companies in forest areas. There are also restrictions on the availability of land in Malaysia. This has led companies like Sime Darby, which has more than half a million hectares of palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia, to look elsewhere.

Sime Darby – reported to be the largest palm oil producer in the world – has leased 220,000 hectares of land in Liberia and is considering buying a further 300,000 hectares for palm oil plantations in Cameroon. Despite the Indonesian ban, it still wants to acquire 1 million hectares of plantation land worldwide by 2015. Other rival palm oil giants like Sinar Mar, Olam International and Wilmar International are also tying up land deals in Liberia, Gabon and Ghana.

Another driver is the massive growing biofuel market. Here’s an example from Kenya:

An Italian company has asked the authorities for permission to lease 50,000 hectares there to grow jatropha, whose seeds are rich in oil that can be turned into bio-diesel.

This plant, originally from South America, has long been grown in Africa as a hedge to keep out animals – goats stay well away as it is poisonous. The area affected is community land which is being held in trust by the local council.

Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd is 100%-owned by the Milan-based Nuove Iniziative Industriali SRL. It has leased almost a million hectares in Africa; jatropha oil from a plantation in Senegal is being supplied to the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea. Other companies have leased land for the same purpose in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ghana, as well as in India.

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