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In the past, when someone said, “I graduated from Harvard,” the prestigious degree would be held on a higher level. In the future, if someone says the same statement, the reaction will be “Oh the university that stole land from farmers in Africa?”
An Oakland Institute news report, “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa”, raises questions about the connection of various U.S. universities to European financial interests buying or leasing vast areas of African farmland. The report claims that the British hedge funds’ and foreign countries’ involvement is African farmers from their lands, making way for industrial profits.
DemocracyNow.org spoke to Anuaradha Mittal, director of Oakland Institute about this situation.
“We have heard about the role of these private hedge funds in food speculation and speculation of food prices, because they control commodities” said Mittal. “But when they start buying even the means of production — they control labor, they control large tracts of land, they control water, they dictate what is grown and how it is grown — it is the kind of vertical integration of a food system that we have never seen before.”
Foreign investors are profiting from “land grabs” that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in some of the poorest countries in the world. The report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other U.S. universities with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years.
According to The Guardian, most of the money is said to be channeled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa’s largest land acquisition funds, backed by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.
Researchers at the Oakland Institute think Emergent’s clients in the U.S. may have invested up to $500 million in some of the most fertile land, with the expectation of making 25 percent in returns. Emergent said the deals were handled responsibly.
“We are investing in African agriculture and setting up businesses and employing people. This is not land-grabbing; we want to make the land more valuable,” a spokesman said.
In Tanzania, AgriSol Energy, stipulates that the two main locations–Katumba and Mishamo—are refugee settlements holding as many as 162,000 people that will get shut down before the $700 million project begins. The refugees have been farming on this land for 40 years.
In Ethiopia, a process of “villagisation” by the government is moving tens of thousands of people from traditional lands into new centers while international companies are offering big land deals, according to The Guardian.
South Sudan has the largest land deal, where as much as 9 percent is said to have been bought in the last few years, negotiated between a Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development a local Sudanese co-operative run by absent chiefs.
The 49-year lease of 400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000 allows the company to exploit all natural resources including oil and timber. The company, headed by former US Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, says it intends to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with revenue of a million pounds or more a year.
“No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,” said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. “These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors.”
The report suggests that foreign companies in Africa have either bough or leased nearly 60 million hectares—an area the size of France—in the past three years.
“Most of these deals are characterized by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms,” the report said.