Hunger for land

“Land grabbing”  is the acquisition (through lease, concession, outright purchase) by persons, governments or corporations of large farmland over 10,000 hectares or forests. These transactions are often on a long-term basis from 30 to 99 years.


The global need of land and its resources (water, timber, minerals, plants for food and for fuel) is intensified by increasing demand for raw ressources around the world. Key drivers are food, fuel and finance. All this leads governments and private investors, both national and foreigners, to look for cheap land with access to resources and close to infrastructure. This land is often taken from farmers who are the traditional users. Something new is the extent of South-South transactions.


This phenomenon is called ‘land grabbing’ and contributes to poverty and social conflicts.

Africa, a favoured target

Land grabbing happens on all continents, but 60% of it takes place in Africa.


Since 2006, more than 30 million hectares of African land have been acquired by investors.


Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly targeted because of the view that they contain a lot of land available, because of the favourable conditions to production of crops, because of the inexpensive labour and because of relatively cheap land.


African legislation is under pressure from international corporations that are looking for fertile land or areas to clear for their own crops. As well as coffee, cocoa, etc., investors want to plant - on large, fertile expanses - low-cost monocultures for agrofuels: jatropha, sugar cane, maize, palm trees, castor oil plants, miscanthus (elephant grasses or matiti), and also food crops such as rice, maize and others … International Financial Institutions made pressure on governments in developing countries to facilitate access to land  and water for foreign private investors. The World Bank and IFC (International Finance Corporation) have prepared conditions favourable to land grabbing for long time. They made pressure to modify land legislation of African countries in favor of foreign and private acquisitions; they provided financial and technical support for agencies facilitating investigation by purchasers. Lately, while the problem came into the world public, the WB group, IFAD,UNCTAD and FAO published together the seven  "Principles for
Responsible Agricultural Investment" (January 2010); but these seem more greenwashing land grabbing than combatting causes of negative impacts of large-scale land transfer.

Percentage of agricultural land controlled by foreign interests for food production for export:

Liberia 67%,

Sierra Leone 15%,

Guinea 11%

Ethiopia 10%,

Sudan and Gabon 8%, Tanzania, Malawi 7%,

Mozambique, DRC, Congo 6%,

Senegal 5%,

South Sudan 4%,

Zambia, Benin 3%,
Madagascar,Mali, Uganda 2%,

Nigeria 1%


In most cases, neither local populations nor host governments have so far received the expected benefits of land acquisitions.


Some people hope to get benefits from investors: roads, hospitals or school; but, in reality, they are put in unfair competition with agriculture system. The investors look for making profit and use land in a more profit-driven way. Thus they choose better arable land and use this regardless of soil fertility management, water consumption and pollution of environment. When they build new roads these do not help the local population transport their products as they are meant to.

Local people are rarely consulted. The negotiations are rarely transparents. Promise of employment or compensations are rarely held. These large scale crops don't increase food availability but result in putting in danger food sovereignty of people.


130 Ethiopian land deals have created less than 50 full-time jobs.

(Source: Cotula L., IEED)

Land, which has previously fulfilled several basic functions for the livelihoods of people, is no longer used by people who previously shared the benefits generated from this land.


Host governments tend to welcome investors hoping to benefit from the sale of land. African governments welcome investors who promise funds and development. They offer fertile land with easy access to water and infrastructures. Some of them target the economic development in their country by boosting (foreign) investments. This partly explains why governments promote industrial agriculture by (foreign) investors and neglect local family farming despite of its contribution to food sovereignty and to sustainable management of natural resources.

Some governments concede "marginal land" because they underestimate the contribution of the use of "marginal land" by diverse people like pastoralists to national economy.

Despite of previous engagement, and because of the lack of strong conditions in contracts, some investors producing agrofuels, supposedly destinated to domestic market, change of target and export these agrofuels to more profitable markets.

The contracts rarely include conditions protecting the interests of local communities. Additionally governments do not respect customary land rights but give priority to the rights to land that purchaser legally acquired by entitlement (title deeds). This is encouraged by the lack of land rights for people, unclear land titles and tenure, and some pressure (see above).


Many African governments are compromising food sovereignty                      

by signing away land and water rights to large investors



Finally, this poses the question of land tenure and the type of rights: land use and land property.



What are the consequences for the people of Africa ?

Concretely, when Africans lose their land, they also lose access to water and other natural resources. The quality of water is affected in the case of pollution by pesticides used in crops then moving in groundwater or flowing indirectly in the river. People also lose access to resources on the lost land: areas for growing, grazing, fishing, hunting, gathering (herbs, nuts, fruits, honey and other foods), areas for collecting firewood and materials for various activities. The benefits generated from the land are no longer used by people who previously shared these through land use rights. Land, which has previously fulfilled several basic functions for the livelihoods of people, is owned by only one.

Land grabbing paves the way for conflicts and poverty.               

Displacement of people and activities brings conflicts for land and threatens security. When villagers are displaced, more often than not, they are moved to places far from public services: roads, water, schools, health centers, etc. They lose fertile land well-irrigated and, by moving in another place, they enter into competition with people previously established. To summarise,


Local people are often deprived of sovereignty on means for livelihood. Many large-scale land investors secure favorable deals in using available water resources - especially if these are scarce -to the detriment of small scale farmers. They install unequal competition for water in regions where farmers are short of water and people lack clean water. When compensation is fulfilled, it rarely covers the true value of sources of income and the loss of means for activities on long term.


The authorities rarely primarily consult land users neither look for free and prior consent of the citizens in decision making. From the perspective of population and in a long term view, the most affected have concerns to make the best decisions on such a vital issue as land.


Additionally, the family farming system is threatened. Being the main source of food and income in African countries, family famrming system is greatly threatened by land grabbing and by contractual production that is sometimes proposed as a win-win solution. In fact, the contractual agriculture makes people bear a large share of risks and reduce their own food production in favour of cash crop. It imposes technical processes that resemble those of industrial agriculture.
The implication for the future is alarming. The control of land is reduced to a few hands, foreign in many cases. Land grabbing risks undermining the important contribution that agriculture makes to national Gross Domestic Products in many African countries: 43,5 % in Ethiopia, 45% in Mali, 28,7 % in Mozambique, 13,8 % in Senegal (in 2010).
Last but not least, by losing land, Africans lose the land of ancestors and some spiritual places too.

To know some examples of social & economic impacts of land acquisition for biofuels crop in Africa:

 clik here.

Some examples of social and economical impacts:

Impacts of some EU companies involved in large piece of land acquisition for biofuels investment, see:

application/pdf 00 110301 Table of impacts of EU agrofuels companies in Africa by AEFJN.pdf (157.8 kB)

A data set documenting over 400 global land grabs

Since 23 February 2012, GRAIN, an interntional organisation, has been making available a new set of data documenting 416 recent, large-scale land grabs by foreign investors for the production of food crops. The cases cover nearly 35 million hectares of land in 66 countries. Africa is the primary target of the land grabs.


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