By Melaura Homan-Smith, AFJN Program Coordinator
On June 20-27 of this year the African Union met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, for its 23rd Ordinary Session. The theme for this year, “2014, the Year of Agriculture and Food Security,” indicates that Africa looks to focus on meeting the nutritional needs of the African people and possibly becoming a major food supplier to the world. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the Chairwoman of the African Union Commission, stated:
“The theme debate must see us recommit to the overarching CAADP targets of raising investment and productivity in agriculture. We must also put in place the concrete actions we must take as countries, regions and the continent to stimulate agribusiness value chains, identifying which specific agricultural products this should be, and where. It requires renewed focus on irrigation and seed development; women’s access to land, inputs and markets; and the infrastructure to store products and move them to markets, inside and outside the continent.”
It is a good sign that the AU hopes to focus more on the development of Africa’s agricultural sector. However, the rate at which African leaders are enabling foreign multinationals to grab large tracts of land suggests that the African people are not a high priority. In fact, Africa needs strong policies on responsible governance of land tenure and support to improve the yields of small holder farmers who feed the continent to this day. Given African leaders’ record in managing extractive industries, the ongoing lease of Africa’s most fertile land to large agribusinesses is nothing more than an effort to further enrich themselves personally by selling off public and private lands.
It was not a surprise, given this self-interested behavior, that “African heads of state and government meeting at the AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea on 26 and 27 June had voted to adopt an amendment granting incumbent government leaders and other senior officials immunity from prosecution in the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.” They refer to prosecution for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Instead of working on agricultural solutions, food security, or fighting land grabs, the AU spent their time granting immunity to sitting leaders.
AFJN believes that overreliance on large foreign investors, namely large agribusinesses, leaves at-risk communities in Africa vulnerable to land grabs. While the African leaders may think that these large businesses are the answer to food security issues, data collected by a number of NGOs, including AFJN, paints a contrary picture. Africa’s human rights issues relating to land grabbing won’t go away unless properly addressed.