Picture of rural women farmer’s co-operative, northern Ghana (Photo: Global Justice Now)
CommonSpace | 1 September 2015
Connecting land grabs and land reform in Scotland and the African continent
by Jane Herbstritt, Scottish campaigns assistant at Global Justice Now
A FULL two centuries has passed since the Highland clearances, but the land claimed by Highland landlords from the crofters then has yet to be returned, and Scotland’s land ownership system remains in desperate need of reform.
Debate and action on land reform in Scotland are badly needed – and the Our Land campaign is a really important contribution to that.
Similar structures of power, inequality and greed that we see playing out here in Scotland are also leading to the loss of land by communities around the world, and particularly in the global south.
Recognising the power and politics of land ownership here as being part of a global picture can add an important dimension to the debate, and hearing about how small scale farmers, communities and movements are resisting and finding solutions can bring about a sense of solidarity.
The Highland Clearances devastated Gaelic and clan society, driving people from land which had been home for centuries. It was sparked by the industrial revolution, when people in the growing Scottish cities were needing meat for food and there was a growing demand for wool from factories.
Grabbing this opportunity to make a vast profit, landowners cleared the Highlands of peasant farmers in order to create big sheep farms. In the space of less than half a century the Highlands became one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe.
Move forward two centuries and a similar story, in a different part of the world, can be told.
Now, the landlords of the industrialised world – that is multinational corporations and governments from around the world – are looking to acquire land to grow consumer goods for their wealthier customers, in order to increase their profits.
Since 2001 in the global south, an area 29 times the size of Scotland has been 'grabbed' to grow food and biofuels for foreign markets. In Africa in particular, multinational corporations and foreign governments are looking for ways to make it easier to access the agricultural wealth of the continent which the World Bank has called "the last frontier in global food and agricultural markets".
The UK Government is helping to facilitate this takeover of the African food system that could have a most devastating effect on small scale farmers in the continent.
In order to ensure access to African agriculture, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (an alliance of G8 and African governments, multinational corporations and African businesses) is changing seed laws, land laws and export regulations.
This will make it easier for multinationals to grow and export crops to foreign countries, but much harder for indigenous farmers whose livelihoods are increasingly at risk.
By early 2014, the UK government had pledged £600m of taxpayers money, through the aid budget, to this 'New Alliance'.
But African civil society is resisting this takeover of their food system. In 2013 almost 100 African civil society groups jointly called on the G8 to end this "new wave of colonialism".
Those organisations resisting the takeover include the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. This is a pan-African coalition made up of farmer networks representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and indigenous groups.
They are working together across Africa to defend small scale farming and promote alternatives to large scale industrial farming. It also includes Food Sovereignty Ghana, one of many civil society organisations in Ghana opposing seed and land laws that would benefit multinationals like Monsanto over small scale farmers.
It is the 'New Alliance' that has put pressure on the Ghanian government to introduce these controversial laws.
Both of these organisations are part of a growing 'food sovereignty' movement in Africa, and the African food sovereignty movement is part of La Via Campesina, the worldwide network of smallholder farmer and growers, with more than 200 million members, which is promoting food sovereignty (democratic control of land, seeds and other parts of the food system) and taking back control of the food system from big business and governments only interested in profit.
Two hundred years ago in Scotland, we know that many of those who were cleared from their homes emigrated. Those who stayed were moved to marginal lands that were not economically viable, hence the first crofting communities were formed.
They fought for legal rights, which sometimes involved direct action by groups such as the Highland Land League that was involved in land reform agitation. Eventually, this resistance and demand for better rights led to the first crofting act which gave crofters better protection as tenants.
Today the Scottish Crofters Federation (SCF) is one of the two UK members of La Via Campesina.
When calling for land reform in Scotland, let’s make the links with landless people across the world whose stories resonate with our own. And let’s not let ourselves become complicit in the devastation of cultures and livelihoods across the world through schemes like the 'New Alliance'.
For more information on our campaign to stop the corporate takeover of Africa, go to: www.globaljustice.org.uk/food