Africa land deals threaten food

May 25, 2009 12:00 am

, ROME, May 25 – A rise in private and foreign ownership of agricultural land across Africa threatens access to food, water and other natural resources for the local people, a new UN report said on Monday.

"In many countries, provisions for including local people in decision-making are usually absent or poorly implemented and this increases the risk of them losing access to land and other resources," said the report’s co-author Sonja Vermeulen.

"The scale of land acquisitions has been exaggerated but in many countries the agreements that allow foreign ownership of land can be very problematic," she added.

"This new trend is a result of the recent food crisis and volatility of food prices, among other factors," said Alexander Mueller, head of the environment and natural resources department at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which commissioned the research.

The report was produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with researchers looking at Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.

It found that land deals brought economic opportunities, citing "guaranteed outlets, employment, investment in infrastructures (and) increases in agricultural productivity."

However, it also warned that if land rights for locals and natives are not protected, such land-grabs "can also cause great harm."

While domestic acquisition is growing alongside foreign investment, African governments were found to have provided indirect backing for private deals.

The report made a number of recommendations: more care when assessing existing land uses and claims; securing land rights for rural communities; involving local people in negotiations; and proceeding with land acquisition only after their free, prior and informed consent.


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