Conference Report: “Bridging the gap between policy and practice: international soft law and large scale land acquisitions in Africa”




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The introduction was given by Mrs Marie Arena, Member of European Parliament, S&D Group


In recent years the phenomenon of large-scale land acquisition on the African continent has taken on unprecedented proportions. Quite simply, this has disastrous consequences for the local population in terms of malnutrition, food sovereignty and sovereignty. All these consequences deserve to be taken into consideration.


As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Maria Arena deals with international trade issues such as EPA and exploitation of minerals; she also follows the issue of land and resource acquisition in Africa. In addition, Ms. Arena has been elected Rapporteur for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats on the issue of conflict minerals.


We realized in the context of this case that there are diametrically opposing views in the European Parliament. Indeed there is a tension between a purely economic logic and the rationale of partnerships based on respect for human rights. From a purely economic point of view, the EU assures its energy supplies and raw materials and the competitiveness of its companies. To do this, it must ensure access to resources, thus ensuring access to land – not just the land itself, but also what lies below it. Another important aspect is that of human rights: the EU must ensure that partnerships are built with respect for these rights and thus, for example, do not provide an opportunity for a company to exploit resources where there is a conflict situation or when it may hinder the development of the region.


In the European Parliament, the trend to ensure the competitiveness of companies takes priority in most cases over the rationale of human rights. We must raise awareness among elected MEPs about the issue of human rights, including the food sovereignty of people. It is a concept that we MEPs must promote, said Ms. Arena.

We, the European and African NGOs, need each other. Our African friends experience what is really happening and can testify to the violation of human rights. Northern NGOs can relay this cry to the European institutions and Member States. Together, we pursue the goal of a more just world.



Mr Amadou Kanouté, Cicodev Africa


Amadou Kanouté, Executive Director of Pan CICODEV, the Panafrican Institute for Citizenship, Consumers and Development, presented preliminary results of a case study on compliance with national laws and international principles, including the FAO Guidelines, by mining companies and the impact of their activities on the lives of the people who originally used these lands. The case study was conducted in the village of Koudiadiène in the rural community of Cherif Lo near Tivaoune in Thies, Senegal. This area is known for its rich subsoil minerals, especially phosphate.


The study revealed that the activities of mining companies installed in Koudiadiène and the surrounding villages have a socio-economic impact that weakens the environmental and socio-economic rights of local populations. These companies belong to European groups specializing in agricultural supplies. The phosphate found at Koudiadiene is mainly for export to the European market for use, after processing, as manure, fertilizer and other chemical products.


The study also shows that several provisions of Senegalese law and of the FAO Guidelines, such as advance information for the communities affected by corporate activities, fair and prior compensation to farmers working the land, and the study of environmental and social impacts, were not met. Moreover, the adverse effects of mining on health, food security, income of the local population and the environment are highlighted by the preliminary report.


For a more detailed overview of the impacts on the population and the demands of civil society, see the presentation of Mr Kanouté and the document "Conclusions and Recommendations"



Click here to consult the Conclusions and the Recommendations of the Study


Click here for the presentation in French



Mrs Bridget Mugambe, Alliance for Food Sovereignty Africa


There is a new battle for the resources of Africa, namely land, solid minerals, seed, water and forest by both local and foreign players.  In all these battles, Land has specifically taken the centre stage.  Various players on the scene; both local and foreign, public and private are busy acquiring vast stretches of fertile agricultural land for various businesses enterprises without considering its impact on the local communities. We call this situation LAND GRABBING. The demand for bio-fuels, solid minerals and other extractives from Africa and climate change have led to unprecedented demand for land in Africa. Unfortunately all these are coming from Europe and America. Consequently, different Frameworks for land, such as FAO principles for responsible investment and the AU Framework for large scale land acquisition, have arisen, tailored to alter the African land systems and laws in favour of European investors and businesses. In addition, individual countries are facing specific challenges arising from bilateral agreements like EPAs from the EU and the G8 new alliance for food.  


Although the different Frameworks on land may have the good intention of promoting investment, the bad news is that they are voluntary guidelines which cannot be used to hold governments and investors accountable. Furthermore, the decisions to lease or not to lease communal lands are left in the hands of very few individuals. These are creating enormous power differentials in the African polity and unwarranted tensions over land. There is no clarity about the specific land problems in Africa that these frameworks are intended to deal with but what is obvious is that the EU and the US are at the steering wheel with new development paradigms defined by free trade and private enterprise which have already created development crises for African countries and enormous poverty.


There is a growing belief in Africa that EU have no control over European private companies doing business in Africa. They manipulate African governments, overlook Human Rights factors   and environmental issues in their deals and go scot-free in Europe. It has become imperative for the European Parliament and the civil society organizations to hold these companies responsible for what they are doing in Africa.



Mr Stéphane Parmentier, Oxfam Solidarity, Belgium


Improving land governance through the use of the Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure


Stephan Parmentier’s intervention focussed on the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. The guidelines have a strong commitment to respect for human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable people affected by land acquisition. The ‘voluntary’ character of the guidelines does not exempt governments and the EU from the responsibility for correct implementation of the guidelines. Even if they are not legally binding principles, they are internationally accepted norms for responsible governance and there is an implicit commitment to advance good governance. Currently, the VG involve a twofold responsibility for the EU. Firstly, they make relevant European policies coherent with the principles of the Guidelines, addressing policies that have impacts on land governance within the EU and abroad, including in development countries (e.g. CAP, biofuels policy, trade and investments treaties).  Secondly, they are a challenge to support consistently the implementation of Guidelines abroad, including and especially in developing countries. Finally, Mr. Parmentier pointed out some priorities that the EU should support to ensure the Guidelines are implemented: more democratic processes, the adoption of measures that improve land governance and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized.



Click here to consult the presentation



Closing Remarks, AEFJN President Mr Gervase Taratara


Gervase Taratara thanked the participants in the name of the AEFJN family. Economic relations between the two continents did not favour the African side, so 25 years ago missionaries launched an advocacy initiative, AEFJN, in the hope that those involved in the economic dealings between the continents would be guided by binding and just regulations for the benefit of both sides, not only the powerful. However, Africa is still suffering from unbalanced trade, especially when international investors buy up land in Africa to cultivate or exploit it for mainly export purposes. Fr. Taratara was satisfied that the speakers clearly demonstrated that a gap exists between policies and the reality, especially since solid and binding international rules to govern land are lacking. In the meantime African land and resources are being taken under the pretext of combatting of food shortage, poverty and hunger. However, the rush for African land is for other reasons: the production of agrofuels, food and flowers for export, securing supplies of minerals, agricultural raw materials for animal feed, agrofuels, food industry, etc. All of this makes little contribution to improve the standard of living of the common African people, while these projects claim to contribute to development. Many of these are non-sustainable projects from the point of view of economy, environment and people. They are rather making life worse for the African small-scale family farmers who live off the land, and they end up displaced and landless. The most important task of humankind is to cherish and preserve the earth for future generations. The land and resources that they are overexploiting today belong to their grandchildren, so it has to be used responsibly. Finally, the President expressed gratitude to all speakers, participants and MEP Arena who made the event possible. He emphasized that it is important that the EU is aware of question land grabbing in Africa. He hoped that this awareness will lead the change from soft laws to binding legislation.




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