No one ever talked to me. Just one day I found the tractor in my field plowing up everything. No one who lost their machamba  has been compensated!
This story is part of what a 45 year old Ethiopian farmer, Chirime, experienced when a big farm came into the community.  This article aims to highlight stories just like Chirime’s, which show the clash between small farmers and big, usually corporate or state-backed, agriculture. This clash is part of a fight that is occurring across the world, with some governments wanting control of land in order to feed their populations and others, usually in the business world, wanting to turn land into a commodity so they can gain increased profits.
Setting the groundwork on land grabs
In order to set the foundation for the rest of the article, it is important to establish the groundwork of the clash that is occurring worldwide. This requires an acknowledgment that well over a majority of the world’s contributions to global warming comes from the actions of four industrialized states (United States, Japan, Canada and Australia) and one region (Europe), and those living in those states. 
The advent of a global climate catastrophe is key to buying land, since 40% of the world’s population may face a “serious drinking water shortage” within the next half-century, unless there is bold and quick action. 
However, there are other factors to the fight over land across the world. One of the main battlegrounds is the African continent, where not only are many states dependent on only one resource or cash crop to gain money from exports, but numerous states were forced by the European colonizers to change from subsistence to cash crops, which caused parts of Africa to suffer from drought. 
As Michael Klare put it, “any discussion of the race for land is a discussion of Africa.” 
These changes would no doubt, make countries weaker to multinational corporations or governments buying or leasing land in Africa. At the same time, there is the idea, among states, private investors and mega-corporations that arable land is “becoming a premium commodity, just like oil, gas, copper, platinum, and other materials,” which has led to a “race for land,” which is also due to an increased population needing an increased amount of food. 
Many of these foreign players are likely following what Susan Payne, the CEO of Emergent Asset Management, declared at a 2009 Global AgInvesting Conference, which echoes the European ideas in the late 19th century of an “unexplored” and un-colonized Africa:
“Africa is the final frontier. It’s the one continent that remains relatively unexploited…there’s accessible labor. And there’s good logistics—wide open roads, good truck transport [and], sea transport.” 
This “unexploited” nature is what drives mega-corporations and government into the land rush in Africa. While numerous activists within Africa would say the area is exploited since it is used by “pastoralists and other indigenous peoples employing traditional agricultural techniques,” a view which could be dismissed by likely investors, it is likely that Payne is talking about something else more fundamental: the push for a new market. 
This is evidenced by the fact that many of the land buys, or more accurately, land grabs, occur in Africa.
Land grabs in Africa
An article in the July edition of National Geographic magazine touches on this exact issue. The article notes that there is currently an “unlikely quest to turn Sub-Saharan Africa,” which is historically, “one of the hungriest places on the planet, into a major new breadbasket for the world.” 
An optimistic observer might think that turning this part of the world into a “breadbasket” is a good thing. The author, journalist Joel K. Bourne, says otherwise.
He writes that the land rush in Africa, which has been going on since 2007 when corporate investors began to become more eager to buy land in states “were acreage is cheap, governments are amenable, and property rights [are] often ignored,” is driven by money, not by “some noble idea of feeding the world.” 
This is not a surprise since the continent is already emerging, in the minds of some, “as a laboratory for testing new approaches to boosting food production.” 
Combine this with the fact that Africa is “particularly attractive, for geographical and historical reasons,” for land buyers from Middle East and South Asia, and it creates a bad situation for the people of the African continent. 
The specific circumstances of land buying in Africa has not been good for everyone. Despite the fact that “poverty, civil unrest, and lack to credit or markets,” contribute to low yields of food, and there is local opposition to land grabs, some say that the land grabs are beneficial. 
Gregory Myers, a USAID Division Chief, claims that the land grabs “could significantly reduce global poverty, and that could be the story of the century,” while Miguel Bosch, an Argentine agronomist who manages Hoyo Hoyo, calls it “a paradise for growers.” 
However, the real story is very different. In Mozambique, a very small amount of the money from the land rush has “trickled down to the nation’s 24 million citizens, more than half of whom living on less than $1.25 a day.” 
Additionally, there is an increased strain on Africa’s food system, which will lose farmers but gain consumers of food, even if modern farming techniques actually help farmers feed themselves, as Bourne claims, which seems unlikely. 
As one farmer, named Alberto, put it: “fields are fundamental for us [farmers]. No fields. No life.” 
There are numerous examples of land grabs gone wrong which do not suggest that the land buys are fundamentally just. One of these examples is a project started by a Portuguese company in Hoyo Hoyo, Mozambique. The company first met with village elders, and they promised social services and land, but they never fulfilled their promises.  On top of this, Deere tractors, imported as part of the project, from the US, failed to start, angering many farmers. 
More land grabs are likely in Mozambique. This is because the government of that country thinks that “bigger farms are the answer” and they might even be following a similar push by Ethiopia’s government to court industrial farms in order to make wheat harvests purportedly “more efficient.” 
Such big farms are problematic, as one farmer of soybeans, Armado Catxaua, put it, “big farms take too much area, and there is nowhere for people to live.” 
Devlin Kayek of the food non-profit, GRAIN, made an observation which is likely shared by many critics of land grabs:
“The land is currently worked by small farmers, and [yet] the government is placing it in the hands of corporations. I’m sure there are some companies with good intentions. But they’re still profiting from low wages and low land prices. Industrial agriculture will just lead to more exploitation.” 
Such language of exploitation may make some readers think of the ‘scramble for Africa’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries by European powers. However, an important difference is that the new “wave of land acquisition is mostly carried out with the support of African national government themselves, who see in it a chance to replace subsistence agriculture with high-payoff cash crops,” while local residents are opposed to the idea, believing that their “traditional land rights are being trampled upon,” reacting with angry resistance. 
There are a few examples which can be enlightening on the subject of land grabs in Africa. One example is the selling of seven million acres of arable land to a Chinese company, ZTE Corporation, by the weak government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in 2009 for palm oil plantation, and another 1.2 acres to a Malaysian firm, Atama Plantation for the same reason.  While local farmers protested such transactions, they were unsuccessful. 
Another example is the Kenyan government encouraging investment in the Tana River Delta “one of the country’s most pristine areas … a major wild bird habitat,” and an area used by subsistence farmers, to make way for biofuel plantations: sugarcane and jatropha. 
Even as it was promoted by an enthusiastic Kenyan government, which has given land on the Tana River Delta to a Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, a British company, G4 Industries, and a number of Qatari companies, inhabitants living in the delta reacted with hostility. 
One inhabitant even said the following about the project: “We know that there are people who have sold our land when it isn’t theirs to sell. They are criminals, and we will fight them, with guns and sticks.” 
Beyond the DRC and Kenya, there have been numerous projects in other African countries as well. One of these was in the country of Liberia, originally created with the help of the US government back in the 1840s, which has opened its land for “agricultural development, particularly palm oil production,” with firms like the Malaysian corporation of Sime Darby spending $3.1 billion to develop the land. 
Not surprisingly, even as the Liberian government supports this venture, there has been opposition from local residents, who argue that the land being developed has “long been used by their tribal ancestors,” with some residents saying in a printed statement that “we are concerned and greatly disappointed over the continuous lack of protection and respect for our distinct ways of life, traditions, and customs.” 
Liberia is not the only country that has experienced the problems of land acquisition. Muammar al-Qaddafi, the eccentric dictator of Libya whose regime was overthrown by US-led forces in 2011, acquired “250,000 acres of land in the inland Niger River Delta of Mali,” and constructed a canal system for irrigation of the water, otherwise known as the Malibya Project. 
This project not only required the displacement of hundreds of local farmers and deprived many of an essential water supply, the Malian government, dependent on Libya’s economic assistance, supported the project. 
One government bureaucrat even argued that “we are responsible for developing Mali. If the civil society does not agree with the way we are doing it, they can go jump in a lake.” 
Luckily for the Malian people, since Qaddafi’s death, the project has been put at risk since Libya “has been unable to meet its financial obligations.” 
There is one more example that is important to highlight, which is in the country of Senegal. Saudi corporations were provided up to one million acres of “prime farmland,” with much of it in the fertile Senegal River valley, by the government, with one of the corporations partly owned by the Bin Laden Group, a construction firm owned by the father of the now deceased Osama Bin Laden. 
While government officials said some of the land was unoccupied, some observers did not agree with that assessment, with Lamine Ndiaye of Oxfam Sengal saying that the land is “occupied by the community” but that that the community are “not recognized as owners of that land.” 
Beyond Senegal, there has been a push by foreign investors, as of 2009, to acquire farmland in countries including Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Malawi, and many others, since there is a huge amount of “still available and untapped” land in Africa. 
In part 2: Land grabs beyond Africa.
 Page 3 of a February 2005 UNICEF report ‘Situation Analysis of Youth and Adolescents in Mozambique‘ defines a machamba as a “family owned piece of land for subsistence and minimal ‘cash-crop’ agriculture.”
 Bourne, Jr., Joel K. “The Next Breadbasket: Why Big Corporations Are Grabbing up Land on the Planet’s Hungriest Continent.” National Geographic 20 June 2014: 56. Print. Also can be read here.
 Gore, Al. 2006. Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. 250-1. Rodale: New York. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this book says, it is still a good source. Using the stats from this book, one can see that the actions of US, Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia make up 69% of the world’s contribution to global warming, if numbers are rounded. For the other 31%, Russia consists of 14% of that amount, Southeast Asia consists of 12% of that amount, Latin and South America consists of 4% of that amount, the Mideast consists of about 3% of that amount, and Africa consists of about 3% of that amount. These numbers are definitely different today, but there is no doubt that industrialized states, commonly called the “Western world,” still have the majority of the world’s carbon emissions and contribute the most to global warming. The same is likely the case for carbon emissions per person and per country, with the United States still in the lead, even above regions such as Europe (see page 253).
 Ibid, 58.
 DK Publishing. 2005. World History Atlas: Mapping the Human Journey. 168-9. London: Dorling Kindersley.
 Klare, Michael T. 2012. The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources. 196. New York: Metropolitan Books.
 Ibid, 185-6.
 Ibid, 196-7.
 Ibid, 197.
 Bourne, Jr., 56.
 Ibid, 65, 70.
 Ibid, 57.
 Ibid, 59-60.
 Ibid, 60.
 Ibid, 58.
 Ibid, 61.
 Ibid, 66.
 Ibid, 54, 66.
 Ibid, 67.
 Klare, 198.
 Ibid, 199.
 Ibid, 199-200.
 Ibid, 200.
 Ibid, 200-1. Other countries include Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.