ROUNDTABLE ON LAND AND INVESTMENT IN AFRICA
From Senegal in West Africa to Kenya in East Africa and Mozambique in Southern Africa, large scale land acquisitions and investments have constantly been on the rise. The growing demand for food and biofuels coupled with over 50% unused arable land in Africa has led to an influx of investment opportunities into the region. The drive and global demand for resources creates new opportunities for farmers and land owners. However, whilst foreign investment brings along with it technological expertise and foreign income to locals, the blurry or non-existent land right laws have led to expropriation and created situations where land owners are forced to work as peasants on their farms.
The concept widely known as ‘land grabbing’ has gained international attention in development debates. A question that readily comes to mind is: are foreign investments good for Africa? The panellists all agreed that investments are crucial not only for the development of Africa but also needed to forestall food insecurity. Current agricultural practices in Africa need an infusion of technology not only to foster food production on a large scale but to fast-forward Africa’s development and harness trade for export. The challenge however is that land investment as it is currently carried out creates a myriad of problems for local farmers which is capable of increasing poverty.
USAID has created policy roadmaps to promote inclusive development and ensure land rights of the locals are not undermined. However, the extent to which these policies are put into practice by investors remain quite uncertain. Also, with poor governance being the norm in African countries, the benefits of land investments are skewed in favour of the private sector and investment companies ignoring the rights of the locals. The big challenge therefore is addressing land governance, ensuring transparency in land deals and placing a key emphasis on community inclusion in investment decisions.
Land investment without community inclusion is tantamount to land grabbing, even with the best of intentions. For civil society organisations, participatory investment is very crucial to ensure a win-win situation in land investment. Furthermore, CSOs challenge the widely accepted assumption that investment for land development in Africa must come from foreign investors. A question that readily comes to mind then is: how about harnessing domestic investment for Africa?
With African countries experiencing exponential population and economic growth, domestic investments rather than “alien investors’’ (as stated by one of the participants) should be given precedence before foreign investment. The idea of infusing technology into agriculture in Africa also brings to the fore two questions: firstly, for whose benefit really are these investments – do local farmers actually need massive technological intervention? Secondly, in the extractive sector, how has resource extraction been managed in the continent to ensure environmental sustainability and protection of human rights?
Despite concerns about whether land investments are beneficial to local communities, widely echoed concerns were the need to address governance issues in Africa and ensure inclusive participation in investment decisions. Weak governance allows the private sector to take advantage of the local land owners and engage in exploitative practices instead of investment. The buck therefore falls on the table of the governments in Africa to strengthen policies and the need for an active civil society to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of the government and investors.