Are Large Commercial Farms Putting African Lives at Risk?

Are Large Commercial Farms Putting African Lives at Risk?

Picture an Africa in which large commercial farming corporations control large tracts of land, labor and agricultural policies.

Although developed agricultural land in South Africa is expensive and therefore not that attractive to investors, land in other parts of Africa is “virtually free” — sometimes going for $20 per hectare (about 2.5 acres), said Zhann Meyer, Nedbank Capital head of Africa business. He spoke Monday at a press briefing, according to a report in BusinessDayLive.

Banks, governments and lenders have a collective responsibility to ensure that policy and legislation make for inclusive sustainable development that benefits local people, Meyer said.

Home to 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, Africa is increasingly seen as the new frontier for agriculture. This is important because the world population is headed for 9.6-billion by 2050, the report said.

More than 60 percent of large-scale agricultural land deals in developing countries in the last decade were in Africa involving more than 56-million hectares (about 138 million acres), BusinessDayLive reports. African governments are making decisions on investments in the agricultural sector that could have serious repercussions for millions of lives for decades to come, Meyer said.

African agriculture is “at the forefront of a land rush,” Meyer said.

Investors argue that although local farming jobs will be lost as African agriculture is modernized and mechanized, it will create opportunities in related sectors. It will also substantially increase the income and wealth of African smallholder farmers.

This year, multinational seed giant DuPont Pioneer bought 80 percent of South African seed company Pannar.

Not everyone is happy about some of the deals in the agriculture sector.

The African Farmers Association of South Africa in November protested the sale of Afgri to AgriGroupe, but shareholders subsequently approved the sale.

Food security in Africa requires policies that enable “sustainable and stable” agriculture and “transparent and enforceable legal land ownership legislation with title deeds centrally registered and undisputed,” Meyer said.

Meyer identified several recent agriculture-related deals and negotiations that could put the livelihoods, way of life and culture of millions of Africans at risk, according to the report.

“I don’t think these deals are necessarily bad, but a lot will depend on the way they are handled,” he said.

The deals include: Grindrod buying a 20 percent stake in Senwes and NWK; Co-operatives Griekwaland Wes Ko-operatief (GWK) and Oos Vrystaat Kaap (OVK) in merger talks; Fund manager Phatisa’s African Agriculture Fund acquiring Malawi’s Farming and Engineering Services; and AgriGroupe buying Afgri for R2,4 billion (about $240 million), BusinessDayLive reports.

“We have to ensure that local needs are met first, that there is food security and jobs created for local people, that the potential displacement of rural people is properly managed, and that there is access to land and training for local people,” Meyer said. “We have to look after our people first. It would not be right if food is simply exported to countries that cannot grow their own crops before the needs of local people are met.”