Hedge funds grabbing land in Africa
Hedge funds are behind "land grabs" in Africa to boost their profits in the food and biofuel sectors, a US think-tank says.
In a report, the Oakland Institute said hedge funds and other foreign firms had acquired large swathes of African land, often without proper contracts.
It said the acquisitions had displaced millions of small farmers.
Foreign firms farm the land to consolidate their hold over global food markets, the report said.
They also use land to "make room" for export commodities such as biofuels and cut flowers.
"This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism," the report said.
The Oakland Institute said it released its findings after studying land deals in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique.
Yet more details came out yesterday on western institutions and Saudi-owned companies that are grabbing land in poorer countries. This is a process that is going on around the world, whether it be the 100 year leases that people are negotiating in Vanuatu, or the grabbing of dairy land in places like Chile for Fonterra (with plans to expand into Brazil and India).
We should be very concerned about the land grabs that are going on at the moment - not only does it often lead to dire consequences for those that are in the host country, but it represents a corporate colonization of land that has the potential to destabilize our economy. The report's authors point out that these land grabs are more dangerous than terrorism, as they feed into a growing food crisis.
The food crisis that is currently fueling the uprisings across the Middle East has little impact on shoppers in countries like ours - for us it means downgrading to cheaper products. However, for those who are the world's poorest, who let's face it, constitute the majority of the world's population and are already spending 50-70% of their income on food prices, this means going down to one meal a day for many.
Many of the world's top economists are already predicting that climate change together with the food crisis are going to be a contributing factor towards the stability of our economies in a year where the UN Global Food Price Index has already eclipsed its previous levels, a reason why it was recently high on the agenda at the G8. Climate change naysayers can go on as much as they like, but there are reasons why many countries have already composed plans for their military on possible scenarios of migration, such as Australia, who got their act together a couple of years ago.
In many ways, this process is invisible. For example, how many people know that the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being fueled by demand for the mineral Coltan, which is used in all of our DVD players, computers and cellphones? How many people realize the impact that our chocolate consumption had on the war in the Cote d'Ivoire? It was revealed in The Guardian yesterday that large US universities such as Harvard and Vanderbilt are also involved in the land grabs.
We must emphasize the importance in this kind of environment of ethical investment. To ignore the global food crisis endangers us all, proving once again that our current system of investment and banking is much more dangerous to those of us in first world economies than the problems caused by "to-big-to-fail" banks. The problem is global, and the solution must be based in ethical solutions.