It’s not just Evil Arab City States or Chinese firms that are buying up vast tracts of land in portions of Africa, set to produce specialised food crops exclusively for export. Now, the news is that “[s]ome prominent American universities and pension funds, among other wealthy foreign investors,” are also “allegedly purchasing huge tracts of land in Africa.” And it isn’t just a list of usual suspects from the Ivy League. Yes, Harvard and Vanderbilt have used hedge funds and financial speculators to acquire large agricultural properties on the African continent. But even “Iowa University and many other US colleges with large endowment funds” have already been able to, via foreign investment groups, acquire hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile land, some with 99-year leases—acts that may lead to the “eviction of thousands of local farmers,” according to Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute (Oakland Institute), a California-based think tank, which looked at such transactions in seven African countries: Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. In Ethiopia, the government is already “relocating tens of thousands of farmers out of their traditional lands while it negotiates property deals with foreign firms.”
In 2009 alone, nearly 60 million hectares—an area the size of France—of African lands were purchased or leased, Oakland Institute stated, mainly through “Emergent Asset Management, a London-based firm which is run by former currency dealers from JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs…Emergent’s clients in the US may have invested up to $500-million – with the assumption that they will make returns as high as 25 percent.”
These land deals, like any other we’ve previously blogged about, are characterised by a lack of transparency, “despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms,” as the Oakland Institute report clarified. While the companies involved in these deals protest that they are ethical in their practices, and though companies such as AgriSol said it wants to work in cooperation with local farmers, “up to 325,000 hectares of land [AgriSol] purchased is occupied by Burundian refugees who have farmed the land since 1972,” are now being “pushed out in favor of white South African farm managers.”
* The title is from What’s Up Africa. That’s how Ikenna Azuike, in the latest episode of the web series, described the land garb.