Transnational land grabs in Ghana cause conflicts

Ghana, which has a long history of smallholder agriculture with 80 per cent of its land holdings under customary systems of land tenure, is also experiencing a process of land concentration which has accelerated since the 1980s as a result of increased foreign investment in mining and logging, and more recently in agriculture. (Photo: Greengrants)
Public Agenda (Accra) | 17 August 2012

Ghana: Transnational land grabs in Ghana cause conflicts

By Ayuureyisiya Kapini Atafori & Catherine Aubyn

The recent increasing land acquisitions by transnational corporations (TNCs) is causing conflicts among farmers, pastoralists and other land users in Ghana, and have the potential of leading to the loss of arable land by smallholders, reveals a study.

The study, which concentrated on the Prairie Volta Rice Limited in the North Tongu District, Solar Harvest Limited in Tamale and Integrated Tamale Fruit Company in the Savelugu District, was undertaken by Professor Dzodzi Tsikata of the Institute of Statistical, Social and
Economic Research, and Dr Joseph Yaro, both of University of Ghana.

The study, conducted with the support of the Future Agricultures Consortium (a global network of researchers working on different aspects of agricultural policy) and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, was motivated by recent global concerns about future adverse impacts of land grabs by TNCs in developing countries.

The overall objective of the study was to provide a deeper understanding of the processes, challenges, opportunities and risks of transnational commercial agricultural land acquisitions in Ghana. The study involved the case studies from the three companies indicated that areas of outmigration, especially Prairie Volta Rice, were due to depression. The company produces rice on three hundred hectares. Solar Harvest cultivated Jatropha for the production of biofuel but switched to maize growing as the Jatropha did not yield profit. Integrated Tamale Fruit Company has its mango plantations located at Dipale and its factory at Gushie. It is also into the exportation of mangoes and other fruits.

Disseminating the findings of the study at a day's seminar on "Land Market Liberalisation and the Trans-national Commercial Land Deals in Ghana" in Accra recently, Prof. Tsikata, the Director of Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy of University of Ghana, noted that land use conflicts that existed between the local farmers and pastoralists intensified as a result of the acquisition of the land and resettlement of pastoralists by Prairie Volta Rice Ltd. She said tension between the state and the communities in Mapi Dove and Tademe also emerged, leading to court cases.

"We really need a register on land deals. We are deciding our agrarian future without realising it," she suggested.

She continued that tensions between the overlords and sub-chiefs in Dipale and the Yaa Naa in the Yendi area reared up since the commercial land deals. She said the disruption of local farms and the loss of the commons have also caused inter-community tensions. Persons who lost their lands have to walk long distances to new lands to undertake farming activities which is tedious.

She argued that the exposure of smallholders to the vagaries of global markets through the land acquisitions by the transnational companies has aggravated the plight of the communities. "The state as a player has compounded negative outcomes by acts of commission and omission, institutional failures and conflict of interest and ambiguities," he added.

She said women lose out in the stratification of society as a result of the development of land markets, and this has led to the proliferation of social classes in the communities where chiefs claim to be land owners instead of custodians.

Prof. Tsikata said the study demonstrates variations in land transactions by transnational corporations in different land holding systems in the country. According to her, the project outcomes were remarkably similar, especially restraints in food crops and non-food crops.

The gender advocate contended that expectations of alternative employment in all the three case studies are worrying since these have not been realised. There are, however, some positive impacts of the TNCs land deals on the Ghanaian economy. Other gains are the transformation of the Aveyime area which allowed the movement of more people, more economic activities and job opportunities. Improved infrastructure, livelihood technologies and foreign direct investment are other advantages. "Land deals impact not only economically, changing traditional dynamics and arrangements of power and resource systems," she declared.

The researchers also discovered that massive destruction of the commons, a source of income generation mainly for female farmers, was posing a great threat to their livelihood and at the same time rendering most of them homeless. In addition, the out-grower farming model was destroyed by factors such as bushfires, faulty assumption on how the model should be considered, poor commitment from the local people and conflict regarding the land tenure system.

The study further found out that the problems created by the TNCs land grabs included class differences that constrained women from owning personal farmlands and rather cultivate fallow lands used by their husbands. There was lack of compensation for dispossessed female farmers. The TNCs land acquisitions effectuated widespread dispossession of certain social groups at the core of small-holder agriculture.

There was the collapse of community farming in Kpachaa. The refusal of investors to fulfil promises made to the local people to provide them with alternative employment. The continuous clearing of vegetation left lands infertile. Shea nut trees and firewood are completely destroyed, and even thatch is sometimes difficult to get. There was decline in wildlife varieties except for mice.

According to a concept note by the researchers, large-scale commercial land transactions in developing countries by transnational corporations and governments are justifiably generating a lot of interest in land tenure research. "Particularly in the context of the on-going global food crisis, there is concern that these transactions could further deepen food insecurity in developing countries. While it is the more recent transactions that are triggering concerns, it is important to note that large-scale land acquisitions and the dispossession of local populations are not new and have historical antecedents in the colonial period."

The researchers stated that Ghana, which has a long history of smallholder agriculture with 80 per cent of its land holdings under customary systems of land tenure, is also experiencing a process of land concentration which has accelerated since the 1980s as a result of increased foreign investment in mining and logging, and more recently in agriculture.

"While global concern about large-scale land deals are broadly correct, it is necessary to examine particular acquisitions in order to provide a clearer analysis of how local land tenure, land use and land availability conditions and the nature of particular land transactions and business models influence impacts on different social groups, local economies and communities."

It was against this backdrop that the study was conducted on the growing large-scale land acquisitions in the country for agricultural purposes with reference to the three selected areas of the study.

The almost pervasive land grabs is not peculiar to Ghana as other African states are currently experiencing the phenomenon by the multinational giants. Experts estimate that Ethiopia has offered 8.2 per cent of its land to the TNCs while a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report indicates that the Democratic Republic of Congo has leased out about 48. 8 per cent of its fertile land. The BBC report reveals that Mozambique has also leased out 21.1 per cent of its agricultural land whilst Uganda rented out 14.6 per cent of its fecund land.
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