Global Land Grab Threatens Unchecked GMO Growth

Jatropha project in Mozambique by Sun Biofuels.  Photo by Nilza Matavel

Jatropha project in Mozambique by Sun Biofuels, a UK company. Photo by Nilza Matavel

Gold rush is a thing of the past. The name of the new game is “land grab”, where governments of developed nations and multinational companies are leasing or buying large tracks of land across the African continent and other countries around the world in a feverish rush to grow crops for food and bio-fuel.  While China in particular is looking to cultivate far-away lands to meet their national demand for food, the burgeoning markets of the European Union are hungry for agrofuels.

For countries such as  Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, the Netherlands and even multinational organizations, like the West African Development Bank, African countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Mali and Zambia are attractive for their arable land and water resources.

Underused or simply cheap land is being snapped up by foreign governments and speculators alike not just in Africa, but also in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.  Developing nations around the world loosen regulations and even reclassify land tracts to allow purchasers to acquire land in exchange for foreign capital and to develop local biofuel markets.  However, the primary beneficiaries of this land grab remain the foreign buyers who are mainly interested in exports, leaving poor regions with fewer dependable land resources and further threatening their stability.  This is particularly true on the African continent where many countries already are in need of annual assistance.

Click to see larger image.  Map showing just a few examples of land grabbing across Africa.  Source: Friends of Earth Europe.

Click to see larger image. Map showing just a few examples of land grabbing across Africa. Source: Friends of Earth Europe. See the entire report.

What is equally disconcerting is that at least some of what will be grown by foreigners will be genetically engineered crops. Whereas indigenous farmers and local governments have protested the ubiquitous spread of genetically modified crops because they were unable to afford the higher price of patented GM seed, the pesticides that are go hand-in-hand with GMOs, and because of health, cultural and moral concerns of growing transgenic crops, the foreign investors hungry for returns may not be so distinguishing, especially when it comes to growing agrofuel.  With few regulations and with local governments anxious for investment, this could become a bonanza for biotech firms which have long eyed underdeveloped world for expansion.

This has been an under-reported story and below we gathered some of articles of interest on the topic. Also important to note is this report by Friends of Earth Europe, Africa: up for grabs, that documents the breadth of the dramatic impact that this development has on local land and people.

US Universities In Africa ‘land grab’

“The new report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other US colleges with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa’s largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.”


African Land Grab Could Lead To Future Water Conflicts

“China, India and Saudi Arabia have lately leased vast tracts of land in sub-Saharan Africa at knockdown prices. Their primary aim is to grow food abroad using the water that African countries don’t have the infrastructure to exploit. Doing so is cheaper and easier than using water resources back home. But it is a plan that could well backfire.”

New Scientist

Kazakh Opposition Calls For halt to China expansion

“Several hundred people gathered in Almaty, the country’s largest city, for an officially sanctioned rally against Chinese expansion into Kazakhstan, a vast former Soviet republic holding 3 percent of the world’s recoverable oil reserves.”


Uruguay President Eyes Tax Raise For Big Landowners

Uruguay’s President indicated that he “wanted to raise taxes on the country’s biggest landowners to boost the state’s share of bumper farming and forestry sector profits, local media reported.”  According to Reuters, “Foreign investors such as Argentine-based agricultural companies El Tejar and George Soros’s Adecoagro have snapped up land in the country, which is one of the region’s most stable.”

African Farmers Displaced As Investors Move In

This New York Times article from December underscores the displacement that thousands of African farmers and their families suffer when they find out their land is owned by foreign investors. Many people, noted the author, “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.”

  • Pingback: Jatropha Curcas Biodiesel » Blog Archive » Global Land Grab Threatens Unchecked GMO Growth

  • Pingback: Can Africa develop a regional response to ‘resource grabbing’? « Another Countryside

  • Pingback: TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Can Africa Develop a Regional Response to ‘Resource Grabbing’?

  • Sigrid-Marianella Stensrud Ekm

    Hi, there are a few errors in the article.
    1. “China” has not requested 1 million ha in the DR Congo. A Chinese SOE has leased some land but the correct figure is 100 ha with possible expansion to 1000 ha in the future if the project is sucessfull. My guess is that the journalist who originally reported on this particular land deal simply google translated a Chinese language source. Google translating figures from Chinese to English will always result in extra zeros being added. An embarassing mistake that keeps on being replicated.

    2. China is selfsufficient in food apart from soybeans which is largely imported from the US and a handfull of other American countries. So the speculations that China is on a hunt for land to secure food supplies is misguided.

    3. “China” as a state /government is not leasing land in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are reports of some larger companies as well as individual farmers (in particular in Zambia) seeking their luck in Africa. Other than that reports that the Chinese government are executing some grand-strategy for landleasing in Africa is wrong.