About Bernard Pollack
Bernard Pollack, an expert on local labor movements and communications, is currently traveling across the continent of Africa with his partner Danielle Nierenberg BorderJumpers.org, meeting with farmers, community organizers, labor activists/leaders, non-governmental organization (NGOs), the funding and donor communities, and others.
His travel writing from Africa has recently been featured in the Montreal Gazette, the NC News Observer, the Omaha World-Herald, and the Des Moines Register.
He holds an M.A. in Political Management from The George Washington University School of Political Management and a B.A. from the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
Latest Posts by Bernard Pollack
This is the second in a series of articles on large-scale agricultural investments, or land-grabs.
- Minimum Human Rights Principles Applicable to Large-Scale Land Acquisitions or Leases by Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (December 2009)
- Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resourcesby FAO, IFAD, UNCTAD and the World Bank (January 2010)
- The six principles in Purchase and Leasing of Large Areas of Land in Developing Countries by BMZ(August 2009)
- The FAO-led Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Land and other Natural Resources (expected October 2010)
This is the first in a series of posts about the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisition, or “land grabs” in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Background: There has been a documented trend in recent years of foreign governments and private firms investing and acquiring large tracts of land in other countries for the purpose of agricultural production and export. While the trend is global, increasingly the countries where these deals are taking place are in largely under or undeveloped regions in Asia and Africa.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), cited in a 2009 article in The Economist, 37-49 million acres of farmland were the subject of deals or proposed deals involving foreigners, between 2006 and mid-2009 alone.
- The seminal report published by Spanish NGO GRAIN: Seized! The 2008 land grab for food and financial security, highlighted 100 cases of both government and private companies in food-importing countries like China, Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia making large deals for farms or otherwise non-cultivated land in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. GRAIN has since kept an online archive, updated daily, of hundreds of articles from around the world reporting any such deal.
- The Oakland Institute subsequently published two reports: The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor and, a few months ago, (Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation In Global Land Grabs.
- Investigating the research on some of the suggested “win-win” approaches, the International Institute for Environment and Development just published Making the Most of Agricultural Investment: a survey of business models that provide opportunities for small-holders.
- Finally, the World Bank itself has been promising to release its own report on more than 389 deals in 80 countries – the largest such report to date – but has delayed publication already three times in the last six months. GRAIN believes the delay is due to unfavorable findings.
Check out today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger to read Nourishing the Planet’s newest op-ed. We highlight innovative organizations and individuals that are working to improve conditions created by human waste contamination – especially in crowded cities. Products like the Peepoo bag and Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)’s dry toilets have the potential to help the one billion people living in the slums of Africa, Asia, and Latin America gain the access to sanitation they deserve.
To read more about organizations working to improve sanitation and hygiene see: Innovation of the Week: Providing an Agricultural Answer to Nature’s Call.
When in Cotonou, Benin, we chose Le Chant D’Oiseau because it was recommended in Lonely Planet and seemed like a good budget option for a couple of days in Cotonou, Benin. Big mistake! We’ve spent the eight last months staying at 54 budget hotels in 24 countries across Africa —and none have been worse value than Le Chant D’Oiseau.
For starters, the 50 dollar per night (for a double room, two people) rate is a really poor deal in a city where you can pay the same price and stay in the three star Hotel Benin Vickenfel. Nothing in our room (or in the rooms they tried to move us to) worked —not the advertised hot water, not the 8 dollar per day internet, and not the air conditioner we paid extra for. To boot, the toilet seat in the first room was not only broken it was split in half, ripped apart in a way that might hurt someone.
Also, the staff does absolutely nothing to accommodate their guests. No hospitality at this Catholic community owned hotel. Instead, they were the only hotel we’ve stayed at in Africa, that I would use the term “unfriendly,” downright hostile even. The staff at Le Chant D’Oiseau would rather argue with the guest about the non-working water or internet than try to help fix the problem.
Also, don’t expect any help here —not in finding a taxi, not in carrying your bags, not in getting directions, let alone a warm greeting or smile. In fact, your more like to be mocked, made fun of, yelled at, or laughed at than helped. It’s the only place we’ve had to check out early anywhere in West Africa and if you look at our other recommendations on borderjumpers.org, it is also one of the only bad reviews we’ve had to write anywhere on the continent. We strongly urge people NOT to stay here. The only positive thing is the location: across the street from a supermarket, near a tasty Chinese restaurant.
Very few NGOs are working on farmers education,” according to Moussa Faye of Action Aid Senegal. But without basic education—including literacy skills—it’s hard for many farmers or farmers groups to raise crop yields, increase income, or improve food security. But “literacy work is a trigger for the development process,” says Faye, especially for women, giving them the opportunity to gain access to land, seeds, and markets.
Farmers need the tools to be able to read and understand budgets, ask questions, and follow up on what they need. In addition to basic literacy, Action Aid is working with farmers to build economic literacy. They’re training people at the local level to learn how to develop and “control” budgets for their associations and businesses. Farmers need the tools to be able to read and understand budgets, ask questions, and follow up on what they need.
Action Aid is also helping farmers gain access to life-long training, helping develop their knowledge, but also their capacity to expand their farms or add value to their crops. These initiatives also give youth entrepreneurial skills to help “give them real prospects” to stay on the farm.
(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.
For many farmers, an abundant harvest is only the first step toward feeding their families and earning an income. Vegetables ripening in the field—or even harvested and stored nearby—are still a long way from the market where they can be sold for a profit.
One farmer in Sudan’s Kebkabyia province, Abdall Omer Saeedo, has to travel 10 kilometers twice a week to the nearest market to sell his vegetables and green fodder. Without a cart, truck, or other means of transporting a large amount of goods efficiently, he couldn’t make enough money to cover his production and packing costs, let alone the cost of seeds for the next season, education for his children, and other household needs. And after making it to market with his 10 sacks and five bags of produce on the back of his donkey, he was still at risk for loss if he wasn’t able to sell it all. Instead of dealing with the hassle of trying to pack it back home again, he would throw away whatever wasn’t sold.
Saeedo sought the help of Practical Action, a development non-profit that uses technology to help people gain access to basic services like clean water and sanitation in order to improve food production and incomes (see Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste). Working with local metal workers, the organization designed a donkey cart for him. Now, Saeedo is not only able to cart his produce to market twice a week, he can also easily bring back whatever he is unable to sell. His income has increased along with the quality and quantity of his product, which is no longer lost or destroyed by travel time and conditions.
Practical Action’s transportation innovations are helping to improve farmer livelihoods throughout sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. In Kenya, the organization introduced bicycle taxis as a way for people to earn a living, as well as an energy-efficient means to transport people from place to place. In Nepal, Practical Action’s bicycle ambulances help carry sick or injured people from remote areas to hospitals safely and comfortably. And in Sri Lanka, the group’s bicycle trailers—capable of carrying loads of up to 200 kilograms—are used to transport goods to market, people to hospitals, and even books to local communities.
To read more about innovations that help get crops to market, reduce post-harvest waste, and improve livelihoods see: Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste, It’s All About the Process, Investing in Better Food Storage, Reducing the Things They Carry, and In a World of Abundance, Food Waste is a Crime.
Senegal, says Moussa Faye of Action Aid Senegal, is the “epicenter of the farmers movement in Africa.” During the 1970s “rebel” farmers groups organized opposition to state owned cooperatives, starting their own autonomous movement of farmers in Northern Senegal. Eventually, their efforts led to the organization of the Senegalese Federation of NGOs (FONGs), which represents 32 farmers associations all over Senegal. In addition to crop farmers, the group now represents fishers, agricultural workers, and pastoralists.
FONG’s model has been replicated in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, and Niger, helping give farmers all over Western Africa a bigger voice and a bigger impact. FONG is the biggest platform for farmers in the country—representing thousands of people. As a result, the group is able to engage the government on different policy issues, including support for securing land, extension, marketing, and the availability of agricultural inputs. “Family farming,” says Moussa Faye of Action Aid, “is central” to Senegal and FONG as a group is able to advocate for changes that support small farmers.
FONG’s model has been replicated in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, and Niger, helping give farmers all over Western Africa a bigger voice and a bigger impact.
Cross-posted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet. This is the third blog in a series about the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisitions, or land-grabs.
In April 2010, more than 120 farmers’ groups and non-governmental organizations all across the world signed a statement declaring their opposition to the guiding principles endorsed by the World Bank, the FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD on “responsible” land investments.
The campaign, spearheaded by NGOs GRAIN, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), Land Research Action Network (LRAN) and La Via Campesina, calls for an immediate end to land grabbing, claiming that it “denies land for local communities, destroys livelihoods, reduces the political space for peasant oriented agricultural policies and distorts markets towards increasingly concentrated agribusiness interests and global trade rather than towards sustainable peasant/smallhold production for local and national markets.”
The groups also believe that land-grabbing will “accelerate eco-system destruction and the climate crisis” because many of the deals rely on industrial and “mono-culture oriented” production systems.
In an interview with Nourishing the Planet, writer and activist Raj Patel denounced land-grabs as “modern forms of colonialism, except with colonialism there was the argument that the colonizers were bringing civilization to the people they were colonizing. This time around, they don’t bother with that justification. There’s not even the pretense of bringing civilization – now it’s just about efficiency.”
Patel noted that when people tout these land deals as an effective means to end hunger, they often ignore the fact that many deals are not growing food at all, but instead pursuing the rapidly expanding biofuels market. “When you’re talking about turning arable land into zones of cultivation for jatropha, you’ve a hard time arguing that anyone’s belly is going to be fuller as a result,” he said.
A 2008 report by the FAO and the International Institute for Environment and Development documents the displacement of households due to this trend in particular. One example the report cites is a multimillion dollar British jatropha project in the Kisarawe district of Tanzania that “has been reported to involve acquiring 9,000 ha of land and the clearing of 11 villages which, according to the 2002 population census, are home to 11,277 people.”
The issue of capturing water in these deals is also often not discussed, but it was mentioned in the April statement, as an example of the many factors that need to be included when assessing the value of the land being leased or sold.
In numerous deals, land under negotiation is described as “idle” or “unused” – a glaring misrepresentation of the indigenous people (including many pastoralists) who in fact live on and have worked the land for years. In an interview with GRAIN, Nyikaw Ochalla, a member of the indigenous Anuak nation in Ethiopia describes the government’s complete disregard for his people’s livelihoods. “There is no consultation with the indigenous population, who remain far away from the deals,” he says. “The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands. And they have no place to voice their opposition. They are just being evicted without any proper consultation, any proper compensation.”
“There are 1.5 billion small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 hectares of land,” according to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of The Oakland Institute and member of the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group. “Secure and equitable access to and control over land allows these farmers to produce food, which is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world.”
The signatories of the April statement (of which Patel was one), demand true agrarian reform, which includes investment in research and training programs for small-holder farmers, overhauling trade policies, supporting regional markets, enforcing strict regulations to foreign direct investment, and promoting “community-oriented food and farming systems hinged on local people’s control over land, water and biodiversity.”
When asked about alternative business models like contract farming, proposed by many intergovernmental agencies, Raj Patel concluded, “What we need is for people to decide what they want to do with the land. The alternative to contract farming on grabbed-land is if people were able to decide in a community forum, in which women had equal voice with men, what the fate of the land should be. That’s what food sovereignty is about. And anything less than that is really just crumbs from the table.”
To read the second half of the interview with Raj Patel, see Change is Possible in this Complex Food System. For examples of agricultural training programs in Africa, see Girl Up: Helping Girls around the Globe Help Each Other Working with the Root, and Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs.
Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet and Border Jumpers.