Africa Land Grab

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By Tom Drake

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The limitations of fossil fuels are now well recognised but the rise of biofuels as an alternative has lead to a startling turn of events.

Biofuel
crops compete with food crops for agricultural land. Concern at the
rising price of food (also caused by biofuel competition) as well as
the potential for making profit is leading developed countries to buy up vast tracts of land in developing countries, especially Africa .

The
South Korean firm Daewoo made headlines recently when it sought a
99-year lease on 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar to grow maize and
oil palm. The deal is far from unusual. A number of companies are
growing sugar cane in Tanzania,
for example, to make bioethanol for European countries to meet European
Union targets. This year, investors from Gulf states initiated so many
farm projects in Africa and south-east Asia that the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged caution to prevent a political backlash.

Population
growth and dwindling oil supplies are predicted to make farmland the
strategic resource that oilfields are now. China has 20 per cent of the
world's people and only 9 per cent of the farmland. According to analysis
by the NGO Grain, Chinese companies and the government have leased or
purchased 2 million hectares of foreign farmland since 2007.

The
list of investing countries is extensive and growing: " Egypt is
investing in Sudan ; Libya in Ukraine ; Saudi Arabia in Thailand ;
China in Africa, the Philippines and Russia ," says Joachim von Braun,
head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in
Washington DC .

All
of this points towards an incredibly worrying expansion of
Neocolonialism. Appropriating landusing the modern fashion of money
and lawyers rather than guns and flags. The poor of today are
subtleydisenfranchised, the right to farm the land in their own
country is controlled by corporations and now States in far away parts
of the world.

We
have already seen African countries exporting food even when in times
of famine. This looks set to increase as climate change will affect the
poorest, technologically least equipped farmers first. As shortages of
food arise disputes could escalate into violence and even war.

Proponents
of foreign investment say it will improve farming ability and make use
of previously unused land. While in some cases this may be true these
are relatively short-term benefits. The ownership and means to profit
from the land and the work done will be essential to the long term
development of African nations.

While
we have met the dilemma of foreign investment in Africa before, the
emergence of state investors on a large scale is a critical and
alarming development.