The Standard (Nairobi) | 6 September 2010
By John Oyuke
East African governments have been criticised for failing to protect their agricultural workers from exploitation, and chided for leasing to foreigners land without the explicit consent of existing users.
A regional meeting heard that land deals are often done in secret without informing the current land users, in a manner that causes abrupt dispossession and food insecurity.
The coordinator of the Kenya Land Alliance, Odenda Lumumba, described any land transfer that is obviously increasing food insecurity for the original land users as ‘unjust’.
"Isn’t it the height of recklessness in leadership for governments to give out land to foreigners when countries in the region are food insecure and are literally being fed?" he posed.
Lumumba referred to the case where the Kenyan government is considering a proposal to lease 40,000 hectares of land in the Tana River Delta to the Government of Qatar. The country wants to create large-scale plantations on the land, to grow and send crops back to Qatar.
"Mutually beneficial decisions need to be made, and this cannot happen when land agreements continue to take place without involvement of the public," he said during the Regional Dialogue on Politics of Food Security in Eastern Africa in Nairobi on Monday.
The two-day conference is organised jointly by the East Africa Legislative Assembly, and the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (FES), a German organisation promoting political and societal education of people in the spirit of democracy and pluralism.
Surge in prices
Resident Representative, FES Kenya, Dr Peter Oesterdiekhoff, described food insecurity — which gained topicality as a result of recent surge of price hikes caused by financial speculation on global markets — as the single most severe violation of social human rights.
He said global scarcities due to population increase, changing nutrition habits, and growing areas kept for the cultivation of non-food crops, would continue sustaining high price levels.
"There are huge challenges for Africa on the continental, sub-regional and national level to harness resources efficiently and prudently, in order to raise agricultural production, and protect the livelihood of the vulnerable population," said Oesterdiekhoff.
He, however, added it was encouraging to see African signatories to Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development programme (CAAD) operating in compliance with the policy.
President Kibaki launched a new Agriculture Sector Development Strategy, which is in line with the CAAD, to guide further development of the country’s agricultural sector in Nairobi recently.The strategy’s objective is to achieve an agricultural growth of 7 per cent annually over the next five years.