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The big scheme of the African Union

The Saheal Twareg and Pleu herdsmen extract water from a rare well for their cattle, Niger. (Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN)

The Courier | Dossier | March April 2009

At the instigation of the African Development Bank and the Commission of the African Union, a series of regional consultations were launched to validate a land policy that could be applicable to the whole continent. The first conclusions are a long way from pleasing everyone.

The African Union has until July 2009 to decide on an extremely  sensitive issue highlighted by the Daewoo case in Madagascar, but that is only the tip of the iceberg (read box opposite). The charter, which is currently being prepared, would foresee – amongst other issues – that any agrarian reform should recognise the right of a State to own lands in the name of citizens.

This subject is not to everyone’s taste. Interviewed by Radio France International, Tidiane Ngaido, Researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), feels that “it is not normal that the State should assume the right of ownership and should distribute lands to companies from abroad. Securing land is essential [to protect] the populations”. For its part, the powerful Peasant organizations and Producers in West Africa (ROPPA) is worried by “land policies elaborated with pressure from the outside in the name of liberalisation and that leave a greater place to the agro business and to multinationals at the expense of community space, our agricultural markets and family farms”.

In the communiqué adopted in April 2008, ROPPA continues: “the current tendency to question the collective and community property of the land and the various rights of use over the natural resources of that land greatly concerns us. The argument would be that this type of exploitation cannot engender a productive and competitive agriculture. This is blatantly ignoring the economic and social reality of our countries for which family farms provide a significant share of the export revenues and most of the employment”.

Marie-Martine Buckens

Monopolising African Lands

The attempts of many countries to acquire rights on African lands for the production of foodstuffs – and of bio fuels in particular – is constantly increasing. Amongst these endeavours, apart from Daewoo’s Madagascar project, the following are taking place :

The one-year “lease” of 110,000 square kilometres (11 million hectares or an eighth of the country's total surface area) in Mozambique;

The "lease" of 850,000 hectares in Uganda by Egypt (2.2% of the total Ugandan surface area) to cultivate wheat;

The acquisition of lands in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique by British firm Sun Bio fuels for the cultivation of bio fuels;

Bioenergy International (Switzerland) is considering the planting of jatropha (to manufacture bio diesel) on some 90,000 hectares in Kenya;

MagIndustries (Canada) has acquired a 68,000 hectares eucalyptus plantation and is currently building a wood chipping plant with a capacity of 50,000 tons per year near the harbour town of Pointe-Noire in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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