In recent years, there has been a sudden rush for the acquisition of large tracks of arable land by foreign investors in countries such as Latin America, Asia and Africa. The latter being the worst affected. In Africa, countries such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone have all signed major land deals with multi-lateral foreign investors. Land shortage will drive thousands of villages to forcefully emigrate to other lands or even squat on other local’s land for a living. This in the long term will create tension and create a further situation of food insecurity and conflicts. Additionally, inter tribal conflicts on the right owner of the land will be a common occurrence.
Effect of land grabbing on local people:
It has often become a mantra to hear many foreign investors proclaim that they contribute towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or that their activity in the foreign land will contribute responsibly to enhance poverty alleviation. They often cite examples such as the creation of jobs, social services and infrastructure development such as roads and schools.
In this write up, I will use a village (Awasa) in Ethiopia as a case study to portray how land grabbing by foreign investors has made the situation of the locals worse off. Ethiopia is home to the Africa’s goods exchange. It trades in products such as coffee, maize, sesame, grain and cotton.
In the first place, most of these land deals are not undertaken appropriately or transparently. This has resulted into a breeding ground for corruption by many government and public officials. The main beneficiaries of these deals are the foreign investors since most of the agri-commodities produced are for export.
Secondly, several villages are forced off their ancestral lands so that it can be leased to foreign investors. In many instances, there is no compensation in the form of new housing structures in the areas that the government suggests that the people should relocate to. What is more, many of the locals are cattle herders and depend on livestock farming for their livelihood. The acquisition of these vast hectares of land thereby deprives the community from herding their cattle on their own lands passed on from one generation to another.
Even though the claim of land grabbing is to create jobs, the stark truth is that there is exploitation of cheap local labour by these foreign investors. In the case of Awasa in Ethiopia, quite a large number (1,300) of workers are employed to speed up the supply chain process of exporting commodities such as flowers to Netherlands and United Arab Emirates. The workers employed in the horticulture industry are paid less than a dollar 1 $ (£0.63) a day and rather work under stressful conditions. The foreign companies however, postulate that all their workers are put under a pension scheme and benefit from health care access. In some cases, workers salary are withheld for several months or not even paid to them as the case may be for employees who were contracted to work on a 20,000 hectares of alfalfa (a flowering plant used as forage or hay for cattle) plantation owned by a Saudi foreign investor which was to be leased to bovine farms in Saudi Arabia (BBC news, 2012). This is then used as a feed for high producing dairy cows in Europe and the Americas.
In western Ethiopia, large forests lands are burnt to make it easier for the tractors to plough several hectares of land for the oil palm and sugar cane plantations. The effect of this burning increases green house gas emissions (GHG) and also destroys the vegetation which serves as migration grounds for many animals. This again can serve as a wild life reserve or national park which can earn the country some foreign exchange through tourism potentials.
The industrialization process of agriculture is also affecting local farmers as this is pushing them off the local and national market radar. Local farmers who used to sell fruits and vegetables (organic) to hotels, schools and other retailers are being affected by this upsurge in mass agricultural production of the same commodities by the foreign investors.
The government of Ethiopia has however agreed that it is indeed providing lease of 25 years to foreign investors. The sad part of this is what the foreign investors claim is not land grabbing since the government of Ethiopia offered them those hectares of land in return for job creation for their country. So the question remains who gains, who suffers the most? This should be a food for thought for Ethiopia and other African countries who want to trend the same pathway.