FOOD MATTERS: Land deals must include local residents

NANAIMO: Project aims to curb the arrogance of foreign land speculators.

An area the size of France was bought or leased by foreign companies in Africa in the last three years.

Canadian Susan Payne worked for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan before founding Emergent Assets Management, the biggest agricultural fund in Africa, backed by the Toronto Dominion Bank and U.S. university endowment funds. An Emergent spokesman said, “This is not land grabbing. We want to make the land more valuable.”

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa, a report by the Oakland Institute, claims farmers in Africa are being driven off their lands to make way for new industrial farming projects backed by hedge funds seeking profits and foreign countries looking for cheap food. These companies are promising 20-40 per cent returns.

So what is land grabbing? To some, it’s just another tool to make money out of natural resources, which is the way speculators and bankers think. But I am very suspicious of any activity which is more focused on money than impact on people and environments.

After the money is made – and taken by the people who have come between the resource and the people who were using that resource – the real sustainability of the place has been destroyed and large numbers of people are left without the means to survive.

More than 60 per cent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two-thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land.

Nearly 60 percent of global land deals in the past decade are to grow crops that can be used for biofuels. In my view, that is short-term gain for a few, which is by no means worth the destruction of real wealth assets that combined land and labour sustainably.

Oxfam International and Oxfam Canada are working to turn around the human rights abuses of the current land-grabbing rush for maximum profit. They have a project called GROW (see which aims to curb the arrogance of foreign speculators and demand inclusion of all affected by the new wave of industrial farming schemes.

GROW information tells us that between 2000 and 2007, hunger in Brazil fell by one-third because people pushed for change together, and their leaders listened and responded. And in Vietnam, ambitious investment in small-scale agriculture helped the country meet the first United Nations Millennium Development Goal – halving hunger – five years ahead of schedule. How are we doing in Canada?

I only ever give to two Canadian charitable agencies: Oxfam Canada and Inter Pares ( I give to Oxfam because their mission is to end poverty.


Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at:

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