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Monday, March 04, 2013

The global rush to grab land and other resources

 From A World To Wind News Service;
The planet is facing a serious food crisis. The unsustainable use of resources, from the land to the sea, due to the violent rush for profit, poses a great threat to humanity and the planet. But rivalry for control of food production and distribution under the profit-driven capitalist system is still sharpening, taking new forms and causing greater misery for the world's people. The land-grab going on in Africa and other parts of the world is part of this trend.
Africa, whose people were kidnapped by the millions for the slave trade and ground down and bled under colonialism and since, a continent whose resources has been sacked for centuries and which has suffered so much from wars spurred by big-power rivalry, faces a new form of looting today. Corporations, private banks, pension funds and many multinational companies have grabbed fertile land all over the continent. With the connivance of corrupt and client governments dependent on foreign investment, they have secured long leases by paying as little as half a U.S. dollar per hectare per year.

Although this kind of land acquisition is far from new, there has been a spectacular jump since 2008. In the following year, investors bought or leased more than 56 million hectares in Asia, Latin America and especially Africa, roughly 15 times more land that the yearly average in the preceding half century. (Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, 24 February 2013)

Writing in the 11 July 2012 issue of the Web magazine Around Africa, Aniede Okure gives the following examples:

Ethiopia has leased or sold 3.6 million hectares of farmland to foreign companies from India, Saudi Arabia, Europe and Israel. The leases require them to pay $0.80 (U.S. dollars) per hectare per year. This deal has displaced 1.5 million people from their farmlands.

- The U.S.-based SG Sustainable Oils in Cameroon obtained land rights for 99 year leases on 73,086 hectares of land at a rate of $0.50 to $1 per hectare per year.

- Sime Darby Plantation, a Malaysian based company, signed a 63 year agreement with the Liberian government to lease 220,000 hectares.

- 67 percent of farmland in Liberia, 15 percent in Sierra Leone, 7 percent in Tanzania, 10 percent in Ethiopia, 6 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 8 percent in Gabon, 11 percent in Guinea and 6 percent in Mozambique are controlled by foreign investors who pay from $0.50-$7.10 per hectare per year.

What do these transactions mean for millions of poor farmers who are already struggling to feed their families? The land grab means that these farmers are stripped of their livelihood. It means that they are evicted forcefully from where they were born, lived and worked for generations. It means the destruction of their lives and the lives of their children. They are being driven into a situation where even those lucky enough to find jobs have no choice but to accept working under the harshest and most difficult conditions, with wages often not enough to feed themselves and their family. If they are hired by a foreign-owned plantation on what was once their land, they will now mainly produce food for export, not for their country's people.

Compensation is almost nil in these evictions. In Liberia, Sime Darby Plantation, which wants to grow palm trees, paid $200 compensation to each evicted farmer for a 63-year lease, only $3 for every year. (The Guardian, 17 October 2012) According to a 2011 publication by NU Wire Investor, one hectare of land in the U.S. costs $32,000, but in the poorer countries of Africa it costs less than the price of a cup of coffee.

It is often argued that in many places farmers have been unable to make a living from their small plots, and jobs will bring them more income than farming. But in general in the third world, the shift to large-scale commercial farming is part of an unbalanced model of development in which people are robbed of their land and then basically cast aside. Whether the foreign investment comes from the imperialist powers or other reactionary states, it usually leads to greater dependency on the world market and submission to monopoly capital and its institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, the UN and certain NGOs.

An ancient African saying no longer applies: "We who are alive now do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." Sustainability, ecological impact and the consequences on people and nature may be touted in corporate brochures, but they are not and cannot be a real part of the "business model", even if some investors feel pressured to claim otherwise in their sponsored ecological and developmental impact studies and other public relations propaganda. Instead, the inexorable capitalist logic of the extraction of the maximum profit in the shortest time and the rivalry between competing capitals takes command and is the primary driver of investment.

Further, once the "gold rush" is on, companies and states who don't get in on the land grab now risk being excluded in the future, losing out to those who got there first.

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