New York Times Reports On How Foreign Governments, Investors Are Pushing Some African Farmers Off Land

“Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come,” the New York Times writes in an article that examines the factors contributing to investors’ growing interest in such land. Though organizations such as the U.N. and World Bank argue the practice of selling farmland to investors “could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it … others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations.”

The article describes the uptick in “farmland deals” in recent years – pointing to a World Bank report released in September, which “tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres” and found that more than 70 percent of those announced in the first 11 months of 2009 “were for land in Africa” – before focusing on how the leasing of land in is playing out on the ground in Mali. There, according to the New York Times, a state-run trust called the Office du Niger controls “three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta” and has already reached deals with foreign governments such as Libya to take over land in the country for food production.

The newspaper names several countries “whose governments or private sectors have already made investments or expressed interest” in Mali’s land, according to Abou Sow, the executive director of Office du Niger. The article examines the benefits and challenges presented with investments by outside countries and quotes from a variety of stakeholders and experts, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. food special rapporteur; and several farmers on the ground in Mali (MacFarquhar, 12/21).

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