Global Land Rush in Africa

by zunguzungu

Do not read this story:

The number of people requiring humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa could increase sharply in coming months due to below-average rainfall and high food and fuel prices, say aid workers. Moreover, funding shortfalls, drought and conflict could further increase the number of people needing humanitarian aid in the region from an estimated 8.75 million people…

On 15 May, international NGO CARE called for more attention to severe food insecurity in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, saying almost eight million people in these countries needed emergency aid. “Chronic vulnerability, poverty, social injustice and climate change are all responsible for recurring food insecurity in the Horn of Africa,” Mohamed Khaled, CARE’s regional emergency coordinator for East Africa, said in a statement. “On top of that, a significant increase in food and fuel prices has worsened the current situation.

Without also reading this story:

The push by multinational corporations and foreign governments in recent years to obtain fertile land in African countries such as Ethiopia, Madagascar and Tanzania has spurred debate over whether the move will lead to development or is simply a “land grab” that further threatens the continent’s food security…

Researchers revealed that foreign companies are buying or leasing vast chunks of land in Africa and elsewhere for their own use. In fact, up to 50 million acres have been sold off or soon will be. That’s equivalent to about 25 percent of all the farmland in Europe. Much of that land is being bought by emerging nations to raise crops for their growing populations. These countries – China, India, South Korea and oil-rich Gulf states – have land and water constraints at home. They got burned by [the 2008] global food crisis and are turning to Africa as a food security blanket.

Food insecurity happens for lots of combined and interrelated reasons, and I’m not positing this as a specific cause. But in a broad sense, taking farm land that used to produce for national and local markets (and for local consumption) and turning it towards export production to richer countries is simply a recipe for starving human beings. It’s also a script we’ve seen get played over and over again in sub-Saharan Africa for a century[1]: as agriculture gets pushed towards export production, the best land (the land least susceptible to drought) goes to the heavily capitalized multi-nationals — who are also better placed to weather the ups and downs of inflation and production costs — but who mainly produce whatever is priced to sell on the world market, rather than the kinds of food that locals consume. And along withthe aggregate effect of removing all that good land from producing for local markets (and subsistence), you also have the fact that as the farmers producing for local markets get pushed to shittier and shittier land, those local markets get increasingly vulnerable to things like drought and inflation, which means that, for example, when oil prices rise, and the price also rises for the fertilizer that you’ll need to make middling land productive, the price of “cheap” food rises really fast. As always, the situation is not simple. But this is a bad trend, and will increasingly need to be part of every “Africa famine” story going forward.

For more, “A Historical Perspective on the ‘Global Land Rush”” and this and this from African Arguments.


[1] As I enjoy my coffee beans grown in Kenya, on land that’s not producing food for local markets as a result, I’m reading about how that production economy was created, by force, in the 1910’s — 1930’s, how colonial administrators supported white settlers in building an export production economy (as a way of providing commodities for the railroad to Uganda to carry) only by pushing Africans off the good, well-watered farmland and onto the middling land, of which there is much in poorly-watered Kenya. And then, mysteriously, people started to starve.