Foreigners deprive people of land they used for eons
Owners enjoy the harvest, Farmers die from famine
Yesterday, people celebrated St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland (although if given a choice, I might’ve driven the lawyers and kept the ecosystem in balance). Perhaps we should raise a pint of green beer in toast to owner occupancy. Centuries ago, starving Irish watched food they grew hauled away on carts and ships to absentee owners in England. More recently, famished Ethiopians watched their crops set sail for markets abroad even as ships in harbor unloaded food aid from Europe. This 2010 article appeared Mar 7, truncated at IslamOnline.net & Newspapers and elongated in the Mail & Guardian.
by John VidalFacing food shortages, rich countries are turning to poor African countries to cultivate vast swatches of fertile land to guarantee supplies for own peoples.
"Foreign companies are depriving people of land they have used for centuries,” Nyikaw Ochalla, an Ethiopian from the Gambella region. “There is no consultation with the indigenous population."
Ochalla, now living in Britain but in regular contact with farmers in his region, said, “People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation.
Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromia studies' association in Ethiopia, wrote UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon: “The Saudis are enjoying the rice harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak."
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capitol) has granted at least three million hectares of its most fertile land to foreign investors.
The Ethiopian government declares, “They bring badly needed technology, they offer jobs and training to Ethiopians, they operate in areas where there is suitable land and access to water.”
A government spokesman said, "Ethiopia has 74m hectares of fertile land, of which only 15% is currently in use -- mainly by subsistence farmers. Of the remaining land, only a small percentage -- 3 to 4% -- is offered to foreign investors. Investors are never given land that belongs to Ethiopian farmers.”
Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13-million people needing food aid, but the government is offering at least 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.
About 2,500 acres are leased for 99 years to an Ethiopian-born Saudi, Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to acquire 1.25 million acres in Ethiopia in the next few years.
Ochalla said: " It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilized.” Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition: "If land in Africa hasn't been planted, it's probably for a reason. Maybe it's used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion."
In Africa, up to 125 million acres of land -- an area more than double the size of the UK -- has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies.
In many areas the deals have led to evictions and civil unrest. Before it fell apart after riots, a proposed 3 million acres deal between Madagascar and the South Korean company Daewoo would have included nearly half of the country's arable land.
Devlin Kuyek of Grain, said, “Food shortages and riots in 28 countries in 2008, declining water supplies, climate change, and population growth have together made land attractive. Africa has the most land and, compared with other continents, is cheap."
"Farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is giving 25% returns a year," said Susan Payne, chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, a UK investment fund seeking to spend $50-million on African land.
Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern emirate states such as Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, is thought to be the biggest buyer. In 2008 the Saudi government, which was one of the Middle East's largest wheat-growers, announced it was to reduce its domestic cereal production by 12% a year to conserve its water. It earmarked $5-billion to lend at preferential rates to Saudi companies for investment in agricultural countries.
China has signed a contract with the Congo to grow 7-million acres of palm oil for biofuels. European biofuel companies have acquired or requested about 10 million acres.
Nowhere is now out of bounds, even Sudan, emerging from civil war. South Korean companies last year bought 1.75 million acres of northern Sudan; the United Arab Emirates have acquired 1.875 million acres. New York investment firm Jarch Capital, run by a former commodities trader, Philip Heilberg, has leased 2 million acres near Darfur.
Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva said in London, “The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security” and that large-scale industrial agriculture required chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, intensive water use, which turned landscapes into enormous mono-cultural plantations.
In Ethiopia, flower farms and other large intensive farms were not being charged for water. The deal was made by central government. One farm uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians.
JJS: You can tell nature has not been niggardly with humanity. The problem is not one of natural fertility, perhaps not even human greed or government interference on behalf of the wealthy. Instead, it’s the dim consciousness that allows absentee ownership of land, water, and all natural resources in general.
What Africans and Earthlings everywhere need is to understand that the “fruit of the land belongs to us all”, that natural value is the biggest part of the commonwealth.
Were we to implement geonomics, and recover the worth of Earth instead of tax one’s earnings, while sharing the “rents” equitably instead of subsidizing insiders, then all of society could benefit from modern, ecological farming practices.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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