Better, static and distortion free-version:
- The Oakland Institute (OI) decided to start looking into what are now called ‘land grabs,’ because of growing investments in agriculture that began to take place in Africa after the food crisis in 2008. The Institute noticed that there was a shift in the discourse around land and agricultural investments in Africa – talk about investing in land and agriculture in Africa being a means for Africa to “not only feed herself, but the world,” and that such investments would create a “win-win” situation. These seemed like myths to OI, because there was never any data being given to back up these statements, which is why OI undertook this investigation. OI was not prepared for the scale at which land grabs are happening, nor for the lack of transparency that they found.
- OI’s conservative estimates are that between 2008 and2009, nearly 16 million hectares of land have been leased or purchased by foreign investors. 70-80 percent of these deals have taken place in Africa.
- “We have a report that will be coming out in 2012 that will say that it might actually be around 200 million hectares in the last decade or so.”
- There are virtually no records of these land deals, no easy way to find out who has been behind these investments, and if there are records of the land deals they are nearly impossible to obtain.
- In exchange for a bottle of whiskey, OI was able to find that the Government of Mozambique has determined there are 7 million hectares of land to be given away. Official from Mozambique implied to OI that whenever a land deal is made, they have no problem displacing inhabitants from their land.
- Communities do not know their land has been given away until the bulldozers arrive, or government officials show up and tell them to move.
- OI studied over 50 land deals for their reports, inSouth Sudan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Mali.
- In its biggest surprise, OI finds that land grab purchases are not limited to purchases by China, India, and Gulf States. In actuality, U.S. and E.U. investors are also heavily involved, particularly through private equity and hedge funds. The financial crisis has led investors to look to invest in soft commodities that are considered safer to invest in. 20-40 percent returns are being promised on these investments. So now we see pension funds and university endowments becoming involved.
- The numbers being put forward on how much land is actually available for purchase or lease is problematic. In Sierra Leone, the FAO website lists 85 percent of its arable land as available, that is, that is not owned by or being used by local people. OI shows that those numbers are based on research that was done 40 years ago. Since the OI report, the FAO had to change its country page on Sierra Leone to show the truth, that there is no unused arable land that is available for foreign lease or purchase.
- The government of Ethiopia has begun what is almost a 7 million hectare lease project wherein around a million people are being displaced from their lands and moved to newly-set up population centers. In South Sudan, a country that was just born this year after years of civil conflict, the role of mass land purchases on spurring further conflict is going to be significant.
- OI also examined the reasons that investors are getting such high returns of 20-40 percent on these investments. It found that this has to do with the tax holidays and incentives being given by governments for this type of activity, as well as the exceedingly low cost of the land to the investors. In Tanzania, for example, very good land is being sold at $0.50 per hectare, land that in the UK would sell for $26,000 per hectare or $16,000 per hectare in Iowa. Even in Brazil or Argentina, such land would sell for $8-9,000 per hectare. In addition, in all of the deals that OI examined, the investors did not have to pay profit taxes or import duties, and profits could be repatriated at 100 percent. Although the investors did not generally report on job creation, in the one case that did, the company listed the investment as creating 18 jobs, while it had displaced a community of 7,000 people from their lands. This picture shows clearly that these investments do not create a win-win situation, but rather a substantial net loss for the host communities and countries.
- Many of these deals are also for agrofuel creation or forestry, so that fertile land that was once feeding communities is now being taken over for the growing of agrofuels.
- These will also have a major impact on water quality and accessibility. Anuradha points out that many investors say that they internally refer to their funds in Africa not as “land funds” but “water funds,” with the goal of securing water rights.
- “Who is invested in these pension funds? Whose university endowments are promoting this trend? Whose development agencies are promoting this trend? It is our government, our universities, our pension funds. So it really opens up opportunities for us to do some real concrete activism. Though Harvard has never come out and said it openly because of their policy, when we exposed their investment in emergent asset management, we have a lot of evidence that shows that they have now pulled out.”
- OI is frequently asked if there is a way to have this type of type of investment in a more sustainable way, without such negative consequences. OI responds that it is not against investment in agriculture, in fact one of the biggest problems of food insecurity has been a result of the World Bank and others advising people not to invest in agriculture over the last 30 years. But, the question needs to be what kind of investment. If the goal is to increase livelihoods, create jobs, deal with climate change, smallholder farmers need to be put at the center of policy-making. If governments put in place schemes to support farmers’ control over their land and their access to credit, those goals will be accomplished. Places that have nothing to do with agriculture, like pension funds, university endowments, JP Morgan Chase, emergent asset management, people with financial backgrounds; they should not be involved in agriculture. Because agriculture is about feeding families, communities, and preserving biodiversity, not getting 20-40 percent returns to finance investors when the rest of the economy is tanking.