Blue Grabbing in Africa

Posted by on December 18, 2013
Dec 182013
 

The wave of land grabs over the last few years has been at a massive scale.  These large scale land acquisitions have serious implications for agriculture, ecology, and agrarian change.  People are dispossessed and often dislocated, and employment is adversely affected.

Since 2011, over 45 million hectares have been grabbed in Africa (a conservative estimate by the World Bank).  Aims include mining, forestry, agri-business, biofuels, and conservation/ tourism, although in Africa the main aim of large grabbers like China and India is agricultural.  Again, this paints a picture of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa) as driving a new scramble for Africa.  Financial, food and energy crises are resulting in pressures to find profitable avenues for finance, to produce food for growing countries like China and India, and to produce energy through biofuels.   And water is the key element in each of these areas.

In a context where land rights are not formalised and population growth means there is competition for scarce resources, there is scope for the World Bank and IMF to present land acquisition (grabs) as a “development opportunity” and many African governments respond positively.  They are pleased to get funds for investment, so they offer cheap land with 99 year leaseholds, and provide tax exemptions.  Information on these deals in being compiled through a range of sources into a land matrix, which can give insights but does not include many formalized deals in progress or emerging through local entities.  According to this matrix, Mozambique and Ethiopia are currently the African countries with the largest number of deals and hectares grabbed. Even in Uganda, where foreign acquisitions of land are illegal since the expulsion of Asian people in 1969, 13 per cent of agricultural land has been grabbed by using leasehold and local legal entities that are owned by Indian capital. Countries such as Zambia have now put ceilings on land acquisitions.

In contrast, South Africa’s agribusiness operates as a sub-imperial power, supported by Pretoria in its role as one of the BRICS.  South Africa’s AgriSA signed the largest single African deal of 10 million hectares, approximately twice the size of Switzerland, although only 200,000 hectares have been used so far for agricultural production.  So South Africa is a significant player alongside Egypt and Libya, moving away from the typical logic of Northern grabs from the Southern countries. The scope for this deal was created by the South African government signing bilateral agreements with a range of African countries.   South African agri-business companies, supported by Pretoria, have 27 registered land deals in Southern and Eastern Africa.

One of the main areas of South African grabbing is related to its growing sugar industry, in which Illovo Sugar is the main player (SADC, the Southern African Development Community, is among the top 15 global producers). Sugar is produced to meet growing national consumption, with the market expanding by an average of two per cent per year in African countries.  But bio-mass is also used to produce ethanol, supporting the renewable energy targets of the European Union.

Sugar Factories in Southern Africa

“Blue grabs” or water grabs are a serious—yet typically overlooked-- part of land grabs.  They raise the central issue of water ownership.  Water use is a stunning omission from the land acquisition (grab) contracts, but the inclusion of water use would certainly undermine the plausibility of these “development opportunities”. For example, almost all sugar estates draw their water from rivers for irrigation, to the detriment of small scale farmers that rely on the same rivers for water.  Moreover the sugar mills consume enormous amounts of water.   In Mali the course of the Niger has been diverted via the construction of an artificial canal to serve a project called Malibya that involved 100.000 hectares to produce wet rice then exported back to Libya. It transformed arid savannah into Vietnam-style rice plantations (see Martiniello, G. “Dispossession and rural social movements: the 2011 Conference in Mali”, Review of African Political Economy).

Without a mass mobilisation of citizenry against country’s elites, land and water grabs will devastate the poor populations of countries in the same way that enclosures did in England in the 18th and 19th century.  This wave of land grabs is leading to mass dispossession, displacement, adverse incorporation of outgrowers and increasing indebtedness, land concentration, and agri-business transnationalism.   

Resistance to a sugar project taking 40 000 hectares in the Amuru district of northern Uganda

Activist-academics are working closely with communities to establish the history of areas that are being dispossessed, so that they can contest these new “enclosures” in court.  Together with social justice activists, they are raising awareness that supports the mobilisation by local populations against land and water grabs and their devastating impact on livelihoods. 

This blog is based on a seminar by activist-scholar Giuliano Martiniello at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Civil Society, and I have inserted water issues.

Tags: 

Blue Grabbing in Africa

Posted by on December 18, 2013
Dec 182013
 

The wave of land grabs over the last few years has been at a massive scale.  These large scale land acquisitions have serious implications for agriculture, ecology, and agrarian change.  People are dispossessed and often dislocated, and employment is adversely affected.

Since 2011, over 45 million hectares have been grabbed in Africa (a conservative estimate by the World Bank).  Aims include mining, forestry, agri-business, biofuels, and conservation/ tourism, although in Africa the main aim of large grabbers like China and India is agricultural.  Again, this paints a picture of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa) as driving a new scramble for Africa.  Financial, food and energy crises are resulting in pressures to find profitable avenues for finance, to produce food for growing countries like China and India, and to produce energy through biofuels.   And water is the key element in each of these areas.

In a context where land rights are not formalised and population growth means there is competition for scarce resources, there is scope for the World Bank and IMF to present land acquisition (grabs) as a “development opportunity” and many African governments respond positively.  They are pleased to get funds for investment, so they offer cheap land with 99 year leaseholds, and provide tax exemptions.  Information on these deals in being compiled through a range of sources into a land matrix, which can give insights but does not include many formalized deals in progress or emerging through local entities.  According to this matrix, Mozambique and Ethiopia are currently the African countries with the largest number of deals and hectares grabbed. Even in Uganda, where foreign acquisitions of land are illegal since the expulsion of Asian people in 1969, 13 per cent of agricultural land has been grabbed by using leasehold and local legal entities that are owned by Indian capital. Countries such as Zambia have now put ceilings on land acquisitions.

In contrast, South Africa’s agribusiness operates as a sub-imperial power, supported by Pretoria in its role as one of the BRICS.  South Africa’s AgriSA signed the largest single African deal of 10 million hectares, approximately twice the size of Switzerland, although only 200,000 hectares have been used so far for agricultural production.  So South Africa is a significant player alongside Egypt and Libya, moving away from the typical logic of Northern grabs from the Southern countries. The scope for this deal was created by the South African government signing bilateral agreements with a range of African countries.   South African agri-business companies, supported by Pretoria, have 27 registered land deals in Southern and Eastern Africa.

One of the main areas of South African grabbing is related to its growing sugar industry, in which Illovo Sugar is the main player (SADC, the Southern African Development Community, is among the top 15 global producers). Sugar is produced to meet growing national consumption, with the market expanding by an average of two per cent per year in African countries.  But bio-mass is also used to produce ethanol, supporting the renewable energy targets of the European Union.

Sugar Factories in Southern Africa

“Blue grabs” or water grabs are a serious—yet typically overlooked-- part of land grabs.  They raise the central issue of water ownership.  Water use is a stunning omission from the land acquisition (grab) contracts, but the inclusion of water use would certainly undermine the plausibility of these “development opportunities”. For example, almost all sugar estates draw their water from rivers for irrigation, to the detriment of small scale farmers that rely on the same rivers for water.  Moreover the sugar mills consume enormous amounts of water.   In Mali the course of the Niger has been diverted via the construction of an artificial canal to serve a project called Malibya that involved 100.000 hectares to produce wet rice then exported back to Libya. It transformed arid savannah into Vietnam-style rice plantations (see Martiniello, G. “Dispossession and rural social movements: the 2011 Conference in Mali”, Review of African Political Economy).

Without a mass mobilisation of citizenry against country’s elites, land and water grabs will devastate the poor populations of countries in the same way that enclosures did in England in the 18th and 19th century.  This wave of land grabs is leading to mass dispossession, displacement, adverse incorporation of outgrowers and increasing indebtedness, land concentration, and agri-business transnationalism.   

Resistance to a sugar project taking 40 000 hectares in the Amuru district of northern Uganda

Activist-academics are working closely with communities to establish the history of areas that are being dispossessed, so that they can contest these new “enclosures” in court.  Together with social justice activists, they are raising awareness that supports the mobilisation by local populations against land and water grabs and their devastating impact on livelihoods. 

This blog is based on a seminar by activist-scholar Giuliano Martiniello at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Civil Society, and I have inserted water issues.

Tags: 
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