1406 Significance of Land in African Economics, Politics and Culture

Access to land will be a crucial issue for Africa’s economic development in the near future, because it is essential for the welfare and survival of the rural population in Africa. Family farmers play an important role as food producers as and as stewards of natural resources. Therefore, the United Nations’ decision to declare 2014 the International Year of Family Farming is to be welcomed. However, this initiative is contradicted in practice by the policies and practices of international bodies.



Family farmers are increasingly under pressure from the threat of land grabbing, where foreign investors buy or lease large areas of land in the African countryside. This land is often presented to investors as “idle”, “underused” or “empty”.  Estimates suggest that globally 56 to 227 million hectares have been transferred in the last 5 to 10 years, with 60 to 70% of these land deals taking place in Africa.



In the light of the demographic challenge Africa is facing, with its population expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, it will be crucial to increase food production.  However, we need to question the logic of the current large scale land transfers as a way of modernizing African agriculture because many of these large plantations are principally producing crops for export and this endangers the food sovereignty of local farmers. A sustainable commercial agriculture based on cultural wisdom will require improved access for family farmers to inputs, local markets and distribution channels, not just a focus on expanding large plantations.



Policymakers will also have to find answers to the formalization of informal capital, such as unregistered farmlands. Such a formalization process of farmland will have to take into account the African reality, where land ownership can be based on customary rights or common ownership. The rural commons have fluid boundaries and are used by all members of a given community. Land in Africa has more functions than merely being a financial asset it is part of the identity of people. This concept is the opposite of the western notion of individual ownership. Land reforms in Africa should not be based on the narrow concept of ownership in the west, but should take into account these forms of collective ownership as well as cooperative models of land use.



Source: The African Executive


Presentation by Michael D. Higgins for the conference :  “Imagining Land: the Significance of Land in African Economics, Politics and Culture.”

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