Malagasy farmers oppose land deals with foreigners

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Reuters | Thu, 16 Apr 2009

Farmers against foreigners buying local land
Rich countries turning to Africa to grow crops

By Muchena Zigomo

DURBAN, April 16 (Reuters) - Malagasy farmers have backed a move by the country's new president to stop a $6 billion land deal with South Korea's Daewoo Logistics, saying it would have come at the expense of local people's needs for land.

Madagascar Farmers' Confederation (Fekritana) programme officer Rihatiana Rasonarivo said it was a bad idea for Daewoo Logistics to lease land for food crops in Madagascar totalling more than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) -- an area the size of Qatar.

Daewoo Logistics' plans in Madagascar, which is slightly larger than France, played a big part in the turmoil that led to the removal of former president Marc Ravalomanana.

"We don't agree with the idea of foreigners coming to buy land in Madagascar," Rasonarivo told Reuters on the sidelines of an agriculture conference.

"Our concern is that first of all the government should facilitate the access to land by local farmers before dealing with foreigners."

The day after Ravalomanana's exit, his successor, 34-year-old former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina, said the Daewoo deal was off and that Madagascar's land was not for sale.

Rajoelina and others say Africans are being deprived of land in favour of crops being grown for export.

Rasonarivo said many local farmers were without land.

"One of the biggest problems for farmers in Madagascar is land ownership, so we think it's unfair for the government to be selling or leasing land to foreigners when local farmers do not have enough land," Rasonarivo said.

"Our own farmers have very small areas to farm and even for those (small areas) they struggle to get title deeds, yet foreigners are able to secure land because they have the finances to do so."

Daewoo planned to grow half of South Korea's corn requirements on the Indian Ocean island, reducing the dependence of the world's third-largest corn buyer on U.S. or South American imports.

Daewoo officials denied ordinary people would lose out.

Rasonarivo said Fekritana would seek to ensure such controversial land deals do not happen again in Madagascar.

Rich Middle Eastern and populous Asian countries have turned to Africa in search of cheap, long-term food supplies in deals similar to the one proposed by Daewoo.

This week Saudi private firm Al Rajhi for International Investment plans was reported by a newspaper to be spending at least $400 million by 2011 to produce wheat and maize in Egypt and Sudan. (Editing by James Macharia and Anthony Barker)
Original source: Reuters
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