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US agribusiness – African Agriculture Holdings – threatens land and water rights in West Africa

Communities affected by African Agriculture Inc in the Ndiaël, northern Senegal, meet on 26 November 2023 (Photo: Michel Fiode)

Ndiaël Collective, Oakland Institute, GRAIN | 1 Feb 2024

US Agribusiness – African Agriculture Holdings – Threatens Land and Water Rights in West Africa

  • African Agriculture Holdings which went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange on December 7, 2023, plans to operate on over 2.9 million hectares across West Africa to produce animal feed and carbon credits for international markets.

  • In Senegal, the US firm is producing alfalfa for export to the Middle East and South Korea on land that local pastoralist communities have long relied on for their livelihoods.

  • African Agriculture’s largest shareholder, Frank Timis, is an energy and mining tycoon whose past ventures have implicated him in fraud, corruption, and other scandals. Several former high-profile US diplomats serve on the company’s board of directors.

Oakland/Barcelona/Dakar – New York-based African Agriculture Holdings went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange on December 7, 2023. This new business venture plans to operate on over 2.9 million hectares in Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal to produce animal feed for export and sell carbon credits for corporations seeking to offset their CO2 emissions.

“African Agriculture’s claim over this staggering amount of land and critical water rights raises serious concerns over the potential impact of the project on the livelihoods of local communities,” said Frédéric Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s Policy Director. “In addition to initiating another dubious carbon off-setting project, it is shocking to see a US firm taking over pasture land from herders in Africa to export animal feed to the Middle East and South Korea,” he continued.

“Our message to prospective shareholders of African Agriculture is that this is our land. This is our pasture land, our home, our water, our food sovereignty. The project must be stopped,” slammed Ardo Sow of the Ndiaël Collective in northern Senegal, representing 37 villages and over 10,000 people.

In 2018, African Agriculture acquired a lease to 25,000 hectares of land in Senegal, formerly controlled by an Italian firm, Tampieri. The land is located on the Ndiaël Nature Reserve – a protected wetland that was partially declassified by Presidential Decree for the Italian project in 2012. The decree was justified as serving “public interest,” to improve food security, and lead to sustainable development. “Yet pastoralists have lost access to their grazing lands, cattle have been maimed by barbed wired installed everywhere and children have died in the irrigation canals,” highlighted Ange David Baïmey of GRAIN.

Initial IPO filings overlooked the Senegalese communities’ 10-year long struggle to reclaim their land, despite extensive documentation of these efforts by The Oakland Institute, GRAIN and Action Aid. In May 2023, the Ndiaël Collective wrote to the company demanding the immediate return of their land as well as adequate remediation and compensation. The company’s October 2023 prospectus acknowledged these land claims, which African Agriculture conceded could be “adjudicated to be valid.”

In January 2024, African Agriculture announced a supply agreement to export alfalfa to South Korea from Senegal. The company has also detailed plans to take over a large share of the feed market in Saudi Arabia and UAE when water supplies in the southwestern US, their current source, run dry.

Alan Kessler, Chairman and CEO of African Agriculture Inc, rings the opening bell of the NASDAQ stock exchange, the day the company is listed, 7 December 2023. (Photo: NASDAQ)

 

African Agriculture boasts about the cheap water it can access from the Senegal River at “1/100th of the cost of its foreign competitors.” It however fails to mention that the Lac De Guiers is the only water reservoir in the lower Senegal River basin, supplying a significant share of water to several cities – including the capital Dakar whose population already faces major challenges in terms of access to water. The company’s sustainability claims remain unsubstantiated as no impact assessment for its farm plans has been made public.

Last December, African Agriculture announced a deal in Mauritania to farm alfalfa on 1,600 hectares with the potential to expand to 500,000 hectares, which represents the total amount of arable land in the country.

In Niger, African Agriculture has signed deals for 2.9 million hectares for agriculture and carbon off-setting. However, abundant research exposes carbon credit projects in Africa are flawed and fail to reduce carbon emissions. Instead, they wreak social havoc by causing forced evictions, loss of livelihoods, and violence – to generate profits for investors.

Romanian-born energy and mining tycoon Frank Timis’s firm, Global Commodities & Investments Ltd. – based in the Cayman Islands – is the largest shareholder, with 48.5 percent of African Agriculture’s stock. Timis, who has been involved in scandals of fraud, corruption, and accused of misleading investors, is notorious in Senegal for flipping an offshore energy project that implicated public officials. The other major shareholders are the New York-based asset managers 10X Capital SPAC Sponsor II LLC (14.4 percent), Vellar Opportunities Master Fund, Ltd. (9.9 percent), Atalaya Capital Management LP (9.6 percent) and Senegalese investor Gora Seck (4.8 percent).

The company’s Board of Directors includes two former US diplomats: Bisa Williams, the former US Ambassador to Niger and Daphne Michelle Titus, a career Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State. Jonathan Modest Mero, Tanzania’s former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and World Trade Organization, also sits on the board.

Since African Agriculture began publicly trading in December, its share price has plummeted by more than 90 percent – from US$10 per share to under US$0.90 by mid-January. “Potential investors are rightfully dubious of the company’s plans, which are both extravagant and exploitative. The cratering stock price reflects this,” said Massa Koné who leads the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles in West Africa. “Communities in rural West Africa and investors on Wall Street see the company for what it is and are clear they have no interest in giving away their lands or money,” he concluded.

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