Wealthy Nations Using Famine to Hold African Farmers to Ransom

Published on 24th March 2009

“Is it obscene to get European farmers to move to poor countries and feed the hungry?” A delegate in a recent European Landowners’ forum asked. To send mercenary farmers to Africa in the guise of fighting hunger is absolutely obscene. Famine is used to hold Africa’s 'bottom billion' at ransom by wealthy nations.  

Developed and re-emerging economies are already at it once more. South Korea is keen to lease a million hectares in Madagascar; Qatar is seeking 100,000 hectares in Kenya; Saudi Arabia is targeting over 9,000 hectares in Sudan; a New York based firm is keen to lease 400,000 hectares in Southern Sudan; a British firm bought 45,000 hectares in Tanzania; a Swedish firm is negotiating a 100,000 hectare lease in Tanzania; a Germany company purchased over 13,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia and… the list goes on.   

All these land grabbing sprees pass in sanitized names such as ‘foreign investment,’ and ‘developing empty land to increase yields.' The re-invention of the old colonial strategy that came to Africa in the name of “civilization” to that of helping fix perennial famine challenges fails to address reasons why African farmers cannot feed the continent in the first place.

In cases where communities with superior farming technologies lease land from governments on the continent; they do not recognize existing disputes between communities and the said governments that has led to the  huge chunks of “idle” land. In cases where individual African landowners lease out the land;  analysts do not probe why international banks are quick to finance outsiders with agro loans to feed Africa and produce bio-fuels as opposed to financing indigenous entrepreneurs.  

Land leases in poor countries address the symptom rather than the actual disease. For example in Africa; the leases are negotiated with organizations (governments) which have never been reformed to achieve legitimacy from the governed. Such lease agreements do not address the interests of the farmers, especially why farmers in poor countries cannot competitively produce to feed themselves and the rest of the world. To send in mercenary farmers is to perpetuate the prejudiced notion that those who have shall be added; but for  those who do not have, even the little they have shall be taken away.  

Europe, United States of America, and Japan among others have received a series of petitions on the negative impact of their farm subsidies on African agriculture. Ever since independence, prices for African commodities ranging from agricultural to minerals have always been set by Western countries thereby impacting negatively on the quest for sustained growth, value addition and bargaining power. Policy makers from the West have in the last five decades reminded Africans on the dearth of leadership on the continent. What makes the Western leadership suddenly assume that Africa has finally gotten the right leaders to negotiate ceding of land to their farmers? 

The surge towards acquiring African lands to feed people in re-emerging economies buttresses the fact that famine on the continent is an artificial problem. Developed and re-emerging economy elites are ganging up with short term focused African elites to rob farmers of the ability to feed the continent. African farmers are starved of financing and technology and enslaved by trading regimes that makes it difficult for them to access national, regional and international markets. 

The quest to lease land from Africa is a strong signal that there exists great demand for the continent’s agricultural produce. It is imperative that African governments take advantage of this, not by leasing out land- but by providing a framework to increase productivity in the farming sector. It is also extremely urgent to review land policies inherited from colonial governments in order to give power to Africans to utilize their land for their benefit and the benefit of the rest of the World.  

The short term aspect of leasing out land will be to generate revenue for the sustenance of the political elites. The long term effect will be to sustain the psychological rape on the African mind that has for over five centuries made him/her to believe that an African has no ability to confront daily challenges. In the final analysis, the leasing spree is setting up the continent for another stage of violent episodes as the continent’s citizenry remain mere spectators at the market place.

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