Focus On Commodity Agriculture Resulting in Land Grabs in Africa

International agency ActionAid released a new reportNew Alliance, new risk of land grabs: Evidence from Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania. The report claims the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative launched by the G8 summit in 2012, has resulted in an increased risk of land grabs in sub-SaharanAfrica.

The New Alliance works to attract foreign investment to agriculture and to revise national agricultural policies in 10 African countries.

The United States committed US$5.9 billion, almost a third of the funding for New Alliance, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spearheaded the effort to form the project. One hundred and eighty transnational and African corporations plan to invest US$8 billion in agriculture with the backing of the G8 countries.

However, rather than supporting small farmers and environmentally sustainable farming practices, the New Alliance has resulted in a focus on commodity crops for export, according to ActionAid. Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst for ActionAid USA, says, “President Obama has pledged billions of U.S. dollars to support the New Alliance. But the money is helping big international companies set up huge plantations growing crops for export, rather than supporting Africa’s poorest farmers.”

The focus on commodity crops is drastically changing land policy and foreign investment in African agriculture, according to ActionAid.

In the report, ActionAid highlights the 1.8 million hectares of land in Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania that have been offered to foreign investors as a result of the New Alliance. In Malawi alone, 1 million hectares are being offered to foreign investors, representing more than a quarter of the country’s total arable land.

Nigeria is granting 350,000 hectares of land to firms that have already been involved in land grabs, such as Dominion Farms, PZ Wilmar, and Okomu Oil Palm Plc.

In Tanzania, Swedish company EcoEnergy is displacing 1,300 people to pave the way for a New Alliance-sponsored sugar plantation. The project secured a lease of over 20,000 hectares of land for the next 99 years.

While government officials often say that these large tracts of land are  empty or underutilized, they are often used by migrating rural populations and livestock grazers. Native populations also depend on natural areas for herbal medicines and other resources.

The Systematic Land Titling and Registration (SLTR) process undertaken by the New Alliance is unlikely to benefit small farmers or populations that traditionally hold communal property rights. According to ActionAid, the abolition of communal land tenure and its replacement with private land markets has often undermined the land rights of the poor, especially women.

To receive aid, national governments in Africa have promised to make policy changes regarding land, seeds, and taxes. The agribusiness companies that stand to benefit from these changes have been unclear about investment plans, and have not submitted voluntary letters of intent to the New Alliance. Governments involved in New Alliance are undermining the Tenure Guidelines on Land, Fisheries and Forests, which were introduced to promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land.

Hertzler says, “the New Alliance was supposed to provide much-needed support to some of Africa’s poorest farmers but this flagship project of Obama’s G8 presidency has forced some of the continent’s poorest farmers off their land.”

ActionAid implicates the G8 countries (the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany, and Russia) and the European Union, and is calling for the replacement of the New Alliance with an initiative that prioritizes community land rights and smallholder farmers. The recommendations of the report include a proposal to implement the voluntary tenure guidelines on land, fisheries, and forests that prioritize gender equality and inclusivity. Furthermore, ActionAid recommends that governments should regulate businesses so that human rights and environmental standards are respected.

ActionAid reports that the New Alliance is not consistent with stated sustainable development goals and prior human rights commitments. According to Hertzler, “global leaders have today recognized that private sector investments in agriculture must respect community land rights, but their continued support for the New Alliance initiative will force poor farmers off their land and further into poverty.”

ActionAid is calling on national governments to show zero tolerance for land grabs in Africa through a #LandFor campaign. Signatures are being collected to halt the EcoEnergy project in the Bagamoyo district of Tanzania and to ask the Obama administration to end its support for the New Alliance.

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