African Union voices guarded support of foreign investment in agriculture

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According to Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Economy of the African Union (AU) Commission, the AU supports the acquisition of African farmland by foreign investors subject to the appropriate checks and controls being in place:

‘Sixty per cent of Africa’s arable land is not cultivated. In that context, we need foreign investors to develop all these land and modernise our agriculture,’ she told a press conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Monday.

‘It is not direct foreign investors that pose problems. The difficulty in this case results from the weakness of our states to negotiate win-win contracts. We intend to make the necessary support to avoid being cheated when negotiating contracts,’ said Ms Tumusiime.

‘Agriculture is the largest sector in Africa. It can provide opportunities for African youths who are experiencing high rate of unemployment. Foreign investors rushing to acquire our land is not necessarily a bad thing,’ added the Commissioner.

The AU statement came after a weekend of mutual back-patting by politicians at the G8 summit where David Cameron celebrated the UK (current G8 president) and other members’ historic commitments to ending under-nutrition including the controversial ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’.

The New Alliance is an initiative launched last year as a partnership of G8 countries, African governments and private companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill aimed at lifting 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years by, amongst other things, encouraging African leaders ‘to refine policies in order to improve investment opportunities’, thus ‘catalysing private sector investment in African agriculture’.

Despite being revised downwards, the estimate of the global scale of foreign investment in farmland in low and middle-income countries (otherwise referred to as “land grabs”) currently stands at 32.5 million ha over 753 land deals since the year 2000. This is roughly equivalent to the total arable land area of Western Europe (which totals 34 million hectares), or as the Land Matrix website puts it, 45,220,535 FIFA regulation football pitches.

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