Race for Africa Part II
Thus, there is a great danger that foreign land investment will only enrich a small and corrupt elite, while local farmers and landless workers are deprived of their livelihood and pushed further into poverty. Land that is put up for sale and presented as “vacant” may in fact belong to poor local farmers, who are without legal proof of ownership and without access to proper legal aid.
This is one of the reasons why the weekly magazine The Economist in a major article in May 2009 warned against the development that is now happening in Africa. The sale of land is happening too fast, too cheaply and without sufficient transparency, said the British magazine, which is usually clearly positive to free trade. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Senegalese Jacques Diouf, have also warned strongly against the development.
7: Paradoxes, disadvantages and advantages
The paradoxes are also in line. Like when Sudan plans to sell off a fifth of the agricultural land to Arab countries and allows buyers to export 70 percent of the crops. At the same time, the country is the world’s foremost recipient of emergency aid in the form of food. Or when Saudi investors are lured with tax exemptions to invest heavily in growing corn, wheat and barley in Ethiopia and ship the crops home. At the same time, the World Food Program is providing emergency assistance to nine million Ethiopians affected by the drought. In the race for Africa, one’s bread can quickly become another’s death.
On the other hand , it is important to emphasize that in a situation of global food shortages, large-scale new cultivation and upgrading of existing agriculture is absolutely crucial. In this context, foreign investors can contribute with long-awaited capital, and above all by spreading knowledge, technology, new seed varieties and other input factors that African agriculture in particular is poor at.
In many cases, the authorities of the buyer countries assist in the development of infrastructure (including roads and power plants), which is one of the most important additions if the low productivity of African agriculture is to be lifted. The acquisitions are sometimes also combined with assistance in the form of schools and hospitals.
The effects of renting or selling land are thus not only negative , but will vary from case to case. Development can hardly be stopped, and it is crucial to raise awareness of the possible disadvantages that may arise for the local population in the affected countries.
8: Need for driving rules
According to computergees.com, that is why international organizations – among them the UN and the African Union – are working to formulate driving rules for foreign investors who buy up or lease African land. The rules must ensure that consideration for the local food supply is taken care of, following the pattern of similar rules that apply to the oil industry. It is about ensuring something as fundamental as sustainable operation, sufficient compensation for local farmers, competence transfer and clauses on special measures if food crises occur in the producer country.
All of this is undoubtedly important. At the same time, it is doubtful whether the driving rules can become so binding – or any regulations sufficiently binding – that they will be able to solve the many challenges surrounding the land grab that is taking place. Of course, there is also a danger that excessive regulation, to the extent that it can be implemented, could hinder benign investments in African agriculture, investments that also benefit the African population.
In any case, the policy is already heavy on the aftermath of an economic development that is only accelerating. At the same time, we know that the proportion of Norwegian and international aid that goes to agriculture in Africa has been dramatically reduced in the last 30 years.
Measures to strengthen local food production in poor countries were the theme of the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy in the summer of 2009, which resulted in the so-called L’Aquila initiative for global food security . Here, 40 states and international organizations commit themselves to spend $ 20 billion over three years on rural development in poor countries, as well as to lift agriculture higher on the development agenda.
The initiative can be criticized – and is being criticized – for the shortcomings of many such summit declarations: vague wording in a non-binding language, possible overlap with other plans and initiatives and the danger that the agreed investments will not materialize. But it is nevertheless an expression of the new political awareness of food security as a global problem, and above all of the desire for long-term assistance for food production to take precedence over the situation-specific, short-term food aid.
9: From short-term to more long-term
Positive trends can already be seen here: At the start of the food crisis, food aid was the dominant response, and the UN food program doubled its budget only in 2007. But key institutions such as the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Kofi Annan’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa ( AGRA ) has been the driving force – with important support from the Obama administration – for a more long-term approach to Africa’s food security.
They argue that in order to ensure food supply in Africa, long-term measures must be put in place that can turn decades of neglect of African agriculture, both from the African countries themselves and from the donor countries. Measures that can lift African smallholders out of poverty and enable them to run more productive and stable agriculture.
The race for Africa will in all probability continue, because the global food situation is characterized by great and persistent uncertainty. This makes it even more imperative that the rich countries concentrate more of their aid efforts on the most basic of all: stable and secure food production.