Mali, a country that has large numbers of farmers, displaces many farmers in its land deals with foreign multinational corporations (MNCs), and this is affecting the production staple food, even before the current conflict. China and South Africa have grabbed large hectares of land for sugarcane plantation, while corporations from Libya and Saudi Arabia take over large hectares of land to farm rice. Mali’s state agency, Office du Niger manages about 3 million hectares of land.
In Guinée, US corporation Farm Lands of Guinea Inc (FLGI) has taken control of over 100,000 hectares of land for the production of corn and soy for export for biofuel. In Sierra Leone, the Swiss firm Addax has taken control of 10,000 hectares of land for the production of sugar cane for ethanol. The case is not different in Benin; the Chinese have taken over large hectares of land for the production of vegetables, corn, and sugarcane and exporting same to the home country. In Cameroon, foreign agro-industrial companies are in operation. An example is Sustainable Oils Cameroon, a palm oil production company belonging to American company Herakles Farms, which has gotten a 99-year lease on 73,086 hectares in the south west of the country and 25,000 persons will have to leave. It is uncertain whether the affected people will receive any form of direct compensation.
The international community together with multinational corporations are on rampage grabbing lands in West Africa and beyond. Justifications canvassed by land grabbers is hinged on the need to turn out more food for the commodity market and raw materials for the bio-fuels industries. Knowing that at about 75% communities in West Africa depend on farming and land for survival, massive land grab portends disintegration of the very bases of their existence, cultures and livelihoods.
Compensation for the leased or sold land is often very poor; in most cases there is none. Small scale farmers are mostly affected by the resulting permanent destruction to the ecosystems when clearing forests. According to Olaseinde Makanjuola Arigbede, President of United Small and Medium Scale Farmers’ Associations of Nigeria (USMEFAN), “In all our effort to stop the massive land grab, foreign countries deploy all tactics to frustrate us. The international agencies claim they are investing in agriculture and to help local farmers; they use the strategy to deceive Africa and make crime wear the garments of salvation. Land grab will compel West Africa communities’ mortgage their future in the hands of foreigners who disguise to be investors but in a real sense they are not but are out to grab African lands for foreign interest at the detriment of small scale farmers.”
West African states are large importers of food, which makes the region prone to food crisis when supply dwindles or funds to continue importation shrinks. At the moment, West African cities are witnessing rapid urbanisation, youth bulge, unemployment and hunger. As a solution to this, governments across the region are refocusing on agriculture. How do they want to archive this when land which is a fulcrum for agriculture has been taken by foreign countries and MNCs? Again as land grab widens and ‘cash crop’ plantations supplant staple food, smaller-scale farmers are likely to enter into completion by producing cash crops to be sold for export and income generation.
With higher liquidity from their work on the farms, West African workers will discover that limited quantity of food will result in skyrocketing inflation as demand outstrips supply. Malnutrition-related diseases will become more prominent in urban centres, in spite of the paradoxical proximity to civilisation. As ECOWAS pushes for the realisation of ECOWAS of people for 2020, addressing the issue of land grab must dominate discourse on sustainable, people-centred development.
No tags for this post.