President criticises G8 on land ownership

Policymakers ‘mesmerised’ by ‘dangerous’ view that ownership will reduce poverty

President Michael D Higgins salutes the UN’s decision to declare 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins salutes the UN’s decision to declare 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

President Michael D Higgins has criticised economic theories on land ownership in Africa that have “mesmerised high-ranking policymakers” including those of the G8 countries, the world’s most industrialised economies.

He said during a debate to celebrate Africa Day that land ownership had been subject to too many “disastrous” social and physical engineering experiments.

Opening a conference at Trinity College Dublin which examined the land agenda of the G8 countries and discussed food security and land-grabbing in Africa, Mr Higgins saluted the UN’s decision to declare 2014 the International Year of Family Farming.

Dangers
The President criticised economic policies suggesting poverty arose from a lack of proof of ownership of land, which he said had “mesmerised” G8 policymakers, but which he believed held great dangers for the poorest.

The notion that for each delineated property there was one corresponding owner was particularly problematic in rural areas, where there was common property, he said.

“Why is there such hostility to leasing and co-operative models of land use and production? Why does land use in Africa have to be fitted within a model of private banking and loan dependency?” the President asked.

Conference
Mr Higgins was speaking at the Trinity International Development Initiative conference on “Imagining Land: the Significance of Land in African Economics, Politics and Culture”.

Professor Howard Stein of the University of Michigan warned that the G8 needed to do a “much more serious analysis” of its policy that having formalised property ownership would allow investment in farming, improve farmers’ incomes and increase food production.

He said the policies seemed to be moving “far too rapidly without careful evaluation” of their effects, and the G8 agenda had been “captured too much by the interests of global agribusiness”.

In many cases states were taking over ownership of “vacant” land and leasing or selling it to international corporations for rents as low as $2 to $5 a year per hectare.