Foreign Policy Blogs

Land Grabs in Africa: Unchecked or Unfairly Villified


Land Grabs in Africa: Unchecked or Unfairly Villified

On a recent edition of BBC Africa Debate, the issue of “the acquisition of millions of hectares of prime of farmland in Africa and the developing world by foreign investors” was subject of a panel discussion hosted by the BBC’s Alex Jakana and Justin Rowlatt that took place in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The debate centered around whether these acquisitions are “development opportunities for these countries or just  land grabs.”

Focusing on the larger issue by using Sierra Leone as an example, the panel was composed of mostly local representatives from all sides of the issue.  These included Ali Badara Mansaray, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Sierra Leone; Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute; and Joseph Rahall, Executive Director for Green Scenery.  In addition an audience of government officials, activists, students and others contributed viewpoints during the debate.

A slideshow of images was prepared to accompany this debate, some of which can be viewed in this post or in full, here.

Land Grabs in Africa: Unchecked or Unfairly Villified

The debate put forth the following questions:

  • What is driving these mega land deals?
  • Who benefits from land grabs?
  • How are these deals made?
  • Who owns the land anyway?

The panelists discussed a wide range of issues that included the conflict over water access between companies that buy large tracts of land and local farmers, the quality of jobs created by foreign companies, the transparency of contracts negotiated between companies and governments, how much people know about the contracts being negotiated and whether a fair price is paid for farmland by foreign companies.

An analysis of the issue accompanying the debate identified that land grabs are “now one of the biggest issues in Africa.”  The analysis presents several pros and cons about these large land acquisitions, and summarizes the views from both sides as:

Land Grabs in Africa: Unchecked or Unfairly Villified

“Many commentators have raised concerns that poor villagers will be forced off their land and agribusiness will marginalise family farming.

Others say that foreign investment can help African countries create jobs, increase export earnings and use more advanced technologies.”

 The BBC analysis explains that there is a significant imbalance between the access to international law protections for those who acquire land and local people who feel that the deals are a violation of their rights.  One conclusion of the analysis offers that agriculture in Africa has not been properly funded by governments for a long time, but large-scale land sales puts the opportunity for local farmers to rebuild this sector further out of reach.

Image credit: Alfredo Bini/Cosmos for BBC