SAfrica blasts 'new colonisation' in African land purchases

7th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Foreign countries which buy African farmland in order to gain food security are guilty of a "new form of colonisation," South Africa said on Wednesday.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, South Africa's minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, blasted foreign acquisition of African farmland and forests at a side event at the UN climate talks here.

"You will find that some other country, or government in another continent, buys up land. If the land is forest land, they will kill it and they will grow food for that country. The host African country suffers.

"A new form of colonisation is happening to Africa. Many people don't like us telling this," she said to applause from delegates.

In an interview with AFP, Joemat-Pettersson gave the example of the new country of South Sudan, where she said "close to 40 percent of its land surface has already been sold" to foreign interests.

"They bring in their own labour, they bring in their own equipment, soil, seeds, they use the soil of the host country and then they move off. They leave very little behind or they may leave depleted land."

She added: "People will basically do anything to alleviate poverty. And what you see in the continent is countries selling off prime agricultural, prime forestry, to alleviate their own poverty."

Joemat-Pettersson declined to name the foreign countries that were doing this, but said in response to a question: "I don't think China is the only one. There are other examples as well."

South Africa has launched an initiative with the African Union to get all countries to draw up a register of land management use.

"This way, they can evaluate what has happened to their rain forest or their forest and what has happened to prime agricultural land," she said.

"The register also allows us also to see how much prime agricultural land or forest land has been sold to foreigners, meaning people from another country, and what impact this has on the host country.

The minister said she did not expect the register to be completed by next year, but said "the African Union heads of state are being absolutely phenomenal about this. We are driving it and I think momentum is gathering, because people are realising that we are losing security of tenure and we are losing control over our own natural resources."

In 2009, a report by two NGOs and the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said nearly 2.5 million hectares (6.2m acres) of farmland in just five sub-Saharan countries had been bought or leased in the previous five years.

China, but also India, South Korea, oil-rich Gulf countries and western companies were involved in the practice, which was driven by the desire for food security and biofuels but also by an improved investment climate in Africa, it said.

In March this year, the aid agency Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) reported that over a million hectares (2.47 million acres) of land in South Sudan had been leased to foreign companies in Unity state.

In July, Germany's Africa policy coordinator, Guenter Nooke, said China's "large-scale land purchases" had contributed to the devastating drought affecting the Horn of Africa.

The accusation was dismissed by the foreign ministry in Beijing as "completely unfounded and (with) ulterior motives."

© 2011 AFP

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