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Africa: secret land deals fleece Africa 0

Kenya risks leasing out huge tracts of land in rushed, one-sided deals that may create new social and environment problems, according to new reports questioning such deals across the continent.

The reports say most contracts are heavily biased in favour of foreign investors. They grant them long-term access to public and community land at very low costs. There is also little to safeguard benefits for local people and the environment.

Foreign companies are currently acquiring large amounts of lands in Kenya and other African countries to grow food crops for export and for biofuels.

In Land deals in Africa: What is in the contracts? author Lorenzo Cotula analysed several contracts and found that most were negotiated in secret “Expected benefits are often in the form of jobs or irrigation and infrastructure development, rather than rental fees,” he says in the report produced by London-based think-tank, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The report analyses 12 recent contracts through which investors have leased millions of hectares of land in East, West, Central and Southern Africa for farming. It found many problems with the contracts but also some signs of positive deals.

In Kenya, multinationals have applied for 500,000-plus hectares of land – more than five times the size of Nairobi – to do large scale farming and mining. The government earlier agreed to lease 40,000 hectares in the Tana River Delta to the Government of Qatar to grow crops to feed the people of Qatar.

Further, an Italian company, Kenya Biofuel Ltd, has been allowed to convert 5,000 acres of Dakatcha woodland at the Coast and plant Jatropha.

The investor had asked for 50,000 acres to plant Jatropha but that was scaled-down to 5,000 for “trial” after protests by conservation groups. “I will use any means to ensure the project begins,” Magarini MP and Fisheries minister Amason Kingi, who is the area MP, said recently.

In Nyanza, Belgium Company HG consulting is expected to put 42,000 hectares of land under sugarcane production while Dominion Farms Ltd has invested in 17,500 hectares around the Yala Swamp. There are other projects in the works, mostly at the Coast.

A second report released in Nairobi last week by Oxfam predicts food riots in East Africa, saying decreasing farmland will severely limit food production in the next 20 years. Oxfam is grouping of 15 international organisations which campaigns against poverty and injustice.

Its report, Growing A Better Future: Food Justice In a Resource-Constrained World, Oxfam advises governments to stop leasing fertile farmland and grazing land to foreign companies for tourism, large-scale agriculture for exports and biofuels. The report says African governments should instead support women and small scale farmers.

Oxfam projects food prices across the world will double in the 20 years and biofuels will increase hunger in Africa. “The grain required to fill the fuel tank of one 4×4 vehicle with ethanol is enough to feed one person for a year,” said Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s pan Africa director. Oxfam says with the current trends, population will far outstrip food production.

The latest revision of United Nation’s World Population Prospects, for instance, shows that Kenya will be grappling with 71.5 million people in the next 20 years, yet maize production is only expected to rise by a third.

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By John Muchangi – Nairobi Star

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