Land Rush: Neo-Colonialism in Africa

A land rush is occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 60 million hectares of land have been sold to western companies.

| May 2014

man in African desert

In Sub Saharan Africa, the locals have lost their usable land due to land rush practices instituted by their government.

Photo courtesy Slow Food

Slow Food Almanac (Slow Food, 2013) argues that something valuable has been lost in this era of fast food and instant gratification. Humanity needs the pleasure meals made with love and attention, and from locally grown ingredients. A global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world, Slow Food International promotes the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. The following excerpt is taken from an interview with Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement.

The greed of a few making the earth’s abundant resources insufficient

Since 2009, around 60 million hectares of African land have been sold or leased to western multinationals, with 70 percent of these acquisitions concentrated in Sub Saharan Africa. The revealing documentary Land Rush by Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat for the organization Why Poverty? analyzes an episode of land grabbing in Mali that ended when investors were scared off during the coup d’état of 2012.

We cannot remain silent

In an interview with Italian TV station Rai Storia, Carlo Petrini gave the following comment: “Land grabbing is a phenomenon characterized by exponential growth, increasing from one day to the next. The private companies and governments, that buy or lease this land for long periods, are taking advantage of a situation in which the western concept of land ownership does not exist and many areas are still used traditionally by farming or nomadic peoples. With the consent of rogue local governments, communities are left stranded overnight, unable to work or prosper without the primary resource of all subsistence economies: land. Often we are led to think that this is an inferior economy, but when it feeds the population, gives dignity and is an integral part of local culture, it should be respected and protected, something which unfortunately does not happen.

Discussions about foreign investments in Africa often refer to them as win-win situations, but they fail to analyze their compatibility with the environment and resources or to examine the impact on communities, which are often left completely impoverished and without prospect. Aggravating the situation further is the lack of any international governance. The silence of the international community in the face of this form of neo-colonialism, in some ways more violent than the traditional version, is a disgrace.

Changing Paradigms

Yet, land grabbing can’t be hushed-up, just as we refuse to ignore the scandal of food waste — a strongly connected problem. In fact, every year our food system produces enough food to feed 12 billion people. We are 7 billion, and a billion suffer from hunger. This means that almost 50% of the world’s food production is wasted. With the world’s population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, if the paradigm remains the same by then we will have to be producing food for 18 billion people. This is generating an unsustainable situation. In fact, if the global food system produces more than enough food and we can’t manage to eradicate waste, we will never be able to guarantee the food sovereignty of individual populations, nor guarantee them enough land to cultivate.

We point the finger at China, India and Arab nations when we speak of land grabbing, but we’re denying our own involvement. Let’s not hide the fact that the responsibility also lies with European nations, including Italy. In addition to the multinationals and governments, investment banking is a significant player, selling land as if it were just another financial product. We can’t ignore these banks on our home territory. We must condemn the situation or risk becoming complicit through our savings. The land grabbing phenomenon shows us that we are facing a geopolitical crisis, requiring international governance, political conscience and new paradigms: in essence, a fight against waste and a return to the land. If we take the case of Italy, we can see that in the 1950s, 50% of the working population were farmers. Now, farmers make up 3% of the population, and half of them are over 65. To reclaim our food sovereignty, it is essential to give young people the expectation of a secure life if they return to the land. In the future we will not eat computers or information. We will eat bread, potatoes, eggplants and carrots. We need to ensure that we’re capable of producing them.”

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