Africa giving away land 'almost for free'


AFRICAN COUNTRIES are giving away vast tracts of farmland to other countries and investors almost for free, with the only benefits consisting of vague promises of jobs and infrastructure, according to a report published today.

“Most of the land deals documented by this study involved no or minimal land fees,” it says. Although the deals promise jobs and infrastructure development, it warns that “these commitments tend to lack teeth” on the contracts.

The report – Land grab or development opportunity?– is written jointly by two United Nations bodies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development – and the International Institute for Environment and Development, a London-based think tank.

It is the first major study of the so-called “farmland grab” trend, in which rich countries such as Saudi Arabia or S Korea invest in overseas land to boost their food security. The investors plan to export all, or a large share of, the crops back to feed their own populations.

The trend gained notoriety after an attempt by S Korea’s Daewoo Logistics to secure a large chunk of land in Madagascar, which contributed to the collapse of the African country’s government.

The report concludes that “virtually all the [farmland] contracts” were “strikingly short and simple compared to the economic reality of the transaction”.

Key concerns such as “strengthening the mechanisms to monitor or enforce compliance with investor commitments” on jobs or infrastructure . . . “are dealt with by vague provisions if at all”, it says.

The report, which studied cases in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and Sudan, uncovered farmland investment in the past five years equal to about half the arable land of the UK.

Other estimates, including one from Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé, put total farmland investments in Africa, Latin America and Asia at about half the size of Italy. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009)