July 26th, 2012
10:37 AM GMT
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(Johannesburg) CNN – It is being dubbed by some as the “Second Scramble for Africa” - millions of acres of land being snapped up by companies from Asia and the Middle East.

The land rush was in part spurred by the food and financial crisis of 2008, when corporations, investment funds and governments began to re-focus their attention on agriculture as a profitable commodity.

Massingir Agro-Industrial is a South African and Mozambican company that has been given the use of 30,000 hectares of land in Massingir, western Mozambique, by the country’s government.  Backed by European investors, once feasibility studies are complete, the company will begin planting sugar cane to produce sugar - 80% of which will be exported to Europe.

Under the deal, local villagers will not be relocated. Some land will be left for the villagers but the vast majority of it will be off limits.

Gloria has lived in Massingir since she was born. Although the deal means local farmers like her will lose land they can farm, she thinks they will benefit in the long run.

"For me it is great to see a foreign company coming here to use our land because with their help we can produce more,” she told CNN’s Robyn Curnow.

But projects like this one are under close local and international scrutiny. Some watchdog groups warn that Africa's governments are giving away land cheaply to investors, with little or no regard for the people currently living off the land.

“What is happening is now they are giving away their land,” said Camilo Nhancale, president of the Youth Development and Environmental Advocacy Organisation. “It's a sort of land grabbing from the communities, they are giving away the land instead of negotiating and leasing the land to the company so if things do not go well they can say ‘no, this is our land.’”

Across the continent, Africa's governments are entering into land deals with foreign investors.

According to data released by "Land Matrix," an organization that keeps track of international land deals, Africa is the most targeted continent for land deals.

Its figures show that of the known and reported deals since 2000, 83.2 million hectares of land involved are in developing countries worldwide - and 56.2 million hectares of that are in Africa. That's almost 5% of the continent's total agricultural area.

But for water-scarce countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the threat of a food crisis is a very real fear. This has propelled them onto the top-10 list of countries investing in land deals - along with the Unites States, Malaysia and China.

Analysts say individual deals can involve hundreds of thousands of acres of land.

“For the Saudi government it is an elevation of food security for long-term structural demand that we are seeing in that economy,” said Simon Freemantle, senior analyst at the Standard Bank African Political Economy Unit.

But he believes Afican nations can benefit too. Freemantle said: “For the African (governments), if those deals can be struck pragmatically and if those funds can be channelled into the agri-sectors, they can develop the skills, they can increase the uptake of fertilizer usage, benefit through better use of irrigation mechanisms, for example.

“It should elevate domestic food security, and of course, that influx of capital is a necessary means to elevate agricultural potential and yields on the continent."

Alda Salomao is the director of Centro Terra Viva. She specialises in environmental law and has taken the Mozambican government to court over one of the land deals it negotiated.

“Or main issues and concern is to ensure that whatever initiative comes to the country, be it from Brazil, from China or from anywhere else, needs to be conducted according to the national laws and policies. Because we have enough provisions in these instruments to ensure that there is going to be fairness and tangible benefits for the country, for its people and for the companies.

“The government is failing to give itself enough time to take the time it needs to prepare itself to receive these kinds of investments.”

The local administrator for the district, Artur Macamo, denies that the government has handled this deal in Massingir badly. The government cancelled a contract with another company to use the same land and the administrator says this a sign that Mozambique will court investors on its own terms. This is a view shared by Massingir Agro Industrial.

“I think it is a win-win situation,” said Octavio Mutemba of Massingir Agro Industrial. “They (foreign companies) would be grabbing land if they came and they did not pay anything, if they implemented their projects, they took money out without any benefit for the population, for the communities.

“In that case I could say they are profiting from the land but in this particular case, in our project, and in other projects in this country that I am aware of, that situation does not happen.”

African villagers like Gloria are caught between their government's need to promote agricultural development through foreign investment and to protect the rights of the citizens who depend on that land.

But with volatile food prices, hungry populations and investors wanting to feed those cravings, it may be that it is the villagers who get left behind.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Hendrik Verwoerd

    The best thing that could happen to Africa, I hope there is more constrcutive land use coming soon.

    July 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Kayla

    The African governements should be inflating their land prices, now that the need of it has increased. This is one of the few times where the African nations have the upper hand. Deals in children's education, healthcare system, infrastructure and others should be coupled with this land this, so that it will truly be a win win situation, and so that the governments should actually be helping their people instead of squandering the money like they've been doing for years!

    July 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  3. Jason

    It sounds like the return of Imperialism, with money instead of arms. The Governments of Africa have no right to sell off their people's nation.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  4. Hardy

    I concur with Jason. It certainly looks a kin to the return of Imperialism. I hope this produces a positive outcome though.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  5. afeuillet@gmail.com

    "The Governments of Africa have no right to sell off their people's nation."

    The Governments of Africa have every right to sell off their people's nation.....with the proper consultation, compensation, and agreement of those people. A simple addition makes all the difference!

    July 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  6. They won't see it coming (again)

    Did no one really read the article? The are "giving" them the land. Once the European countries invest in it, and make it profitable the government will claim they "using" the people and stir up hatred about how the rich countries are "using" the people, then they will take the land back and all the equipment and give it to their cronies. Sure, go ahead and invest there.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  7. VersaMonk

    African Enslavement never ends.. just comes in different colours shapes and sizes. Its not that Africans are stupid, they just believe easily in a world full of deception. The question is what happens when they want their land back???.. These guys have learnt from Mugabe.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  8. Cris

    The best thing to happen to Africa. Now people that can use that land responsibly will be able to produce food to feed the exploding populations of India, and Africa. Whoever calls this enslavement or imperialism has no basis in facts or reason.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:29 am |
  9. dr A Kruger

    Africa started flourishing during the colonial era, then lost all the gains when it ended. Tour Europe and you'll see lots of Africans living there now.. why discriminate against Europeans who can live in Africa and get it going again? Pure racism.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:01 am |
  10. arapikos

    Ghana, has the most ideal land sales in Africa. If you are none Ghanaian you can purchase land for 50 years, after which you can apply for another 50 years or relinquish it– so, actually it is a land leasehold. Somehow, the Europeans, et.al. think the Africans are like the "old school"–not true the young Africans understand the game plans. So, best to make a good deal now or end up loosing all of your investment in the next 15-20 years–when the diaspora returns home–it has already started in some African countries.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:31 am |

    I think its time to chase those crazy bald heads out of Africa again and put on trail those foolish African leaders who now sale lands like the slave time when they sold their sons and daughters...

    July 30, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  12. Landgrab

    Agricultural land must be leased and not 'given' nor be sold!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  13. save4africa

    kenya is facing constant land grabbing cases.as much as idle land is put to use then its better to create job opportunities.there is a project dubbed shamba shape up.its doing fine.and now investors r exploring lake turkana 4 irrigation of massive lands

    July 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  14. solonly01

    Africans can never learn till the end of the world! After all europians had done to Africa stilling it humen resources and turning them to slave... This time they had turn in to taking thire land and those ignorance (African) governments kept not learning from the past.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  15. short story about love

    Thanks for another fantastic post. Where else may just anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I'm at the look for such information.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  16. Weston

    The Rising African Spring – (REVOLT!
    African people nearly one billion in Africa 500 million in the Diaspora across the world will not stand aside any longer and watch as their share of Africa’s vast property, rich land, wealth and business culture are stolen and illegally sold off by incompetent African leaders. Africa is not for sale! African enslaved people built Europe and America and now we will join and protect Africa chase out unwanted elements and rebuild our homeland as only Africa people globally can. We will honor no land sale and will now take controlling interest in all business dealings. The tool Africans need was freedom. They now have that freedom. Africa Is Not For Sale or plunder! The world will now witness a global African Inheritance War. Those who need African people cooperation to ensure survival should partner with global black African people NOW. African Land agreements that plunder and not approved by all African stakeholders will not be honored.
    Posted by IMSCO“NGO Specialized with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.”

    August 1, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  17. Alan King

    It is amazing how everyone is talking about Africa's land now that investors realised how valuable it is. Where were you guys when these lands were wasted lands and their inhabitants were dying of hunger and disease. Is it envy or jealousy> Please stop patronising. Ignorants assume always that they know better than others. Africa 's leaders know what they are doing. Africa's land needs to be developed and it will go to the highest bidder just like you buy land or shares in the US, Europe or anywhere else. If you got the guts and the buck get into the race. Otherwise shut up

    August 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  18. Made In Addis

    To be fair – for instance in Ethiopia, even the natives can't buy land but lease. We need the Saudi's, Chinese, US, and the Europeans as much as they need us. We will be OK as long as we learn from our past mistakes, come together as Africans not tribes and clans and fight corruption.

    August 26, 2012 at 4:34 am |
  19. icons designs

    Without colnversations!


    September 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  20. icon collection

    Very mausing idea


    September 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  21. icon design

    What excellent interlocutors :)

    October 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm |

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