May 17 – Prior to Obama’s meeting with African Leaders

by Granate Sosnoff on 4th June, 2012

Investing in hunger: Africa

This Saturday President Obama will meet with African leaders to discuss food security at Camp David. One thing they probably won’t discuss is the role of foreign investment in causing food insecurity.

Most of us know that the US offers huge amounts of aid to governments like Ethiopia (over a billion a year since 2007) including funds for famine relief. What we don’t all know is that at the same time that we taxpayers and donors are giving aid to help African nations, American investors are hindering Africa’s food production by accumulating fertile, breadbasket lands there.

Investing in agricultural projects in Africa that provide food or jobs to buy food would make sense. But investors aren’t supporting the production of staple foods like cassava and maize for sale in African markets. They’re making money off growing exports like sugar in Ethiopia and palm oil in Sierra Leone and creating very few new jobs.

The World Bank has facilitated this process as it continues to promote a welcoming investor climate as the road to successful development. Unlikely investors such as university endowments, pension funds, and foundations are drawn to both the promise of 25% returns and the added flash of supporting development and responsible agriculture.

Critics of the World Bank’s strategy, say that they are not opposed to investment that is actually responsible. They argue that promises of infrastructure and jobs have not been realized. And what should be a boost to African communities has instead only added to existing problems.

Tragically, land deals have had a deep downside in Africa. Including the fact that huge groups of people have to be displaced to make way for them.

In Ethiopia, 70,000 are being forcibly moved in Gambella. The government has said that people are going willingly to new villages where promises of schools, health care and food await. But Human Rights Watch, the Oakland Institute and other NGOs have documented that this is hardly the case. They found that the ongoing displacement has been fraught with violence and coercion and that promises of benefits have gone unrealized.

The World Bank estimates that more than 96 million acres, an area the size of France, is engaged in land deals. Much of this land was previously occupied by villages and utilized for food production.

Take Tanzania for example. AgriSol Energy’s website markets their partnership of American technology and know-how to help underdeveloped global locations.

The reality is that some of the land AgriSol intends to develop is home to thriving, robust communities successfully producing food for themselves and nearby villages. AgriSol’s deal is reliant on moving 162,000 people. Bad press and ugly events on the ground has prompted Iowa State University, a key partner in the charade of responsible agro-investing, to pull out entirely.

What the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank, found in investigations of fifty land deals in seven countries is that investors are in Africa to make a lot of money, not improve the lives of Africans.

Simply put, foreign investors are taking some of the choicest lands in Africa and offering little in return. This ceding of Africa’s fertile lands is not only unfair it is laying the groundwork for fresh tragedy as small farmers are being forced off their lands and losing the ability to provide food for themselves and their communities.

It makes little sense to promote this kind of investment in Africa. It displaces communities who then add to the ranks of those already dependent on foreign aid.

It’s one of those win-lose-lose situations: investors get huge returns on their investments; Africans lose their land; and taxpayers and donors pay for more aid.

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