What can you buy with $3.95? Probably a lot of different things. A soda or two, maybe a couple snacks, a cup of coffee from Starbucks, maybe even a new phone cord on Amazon. There are a lot of things that you can buy with $3.95, but most people don’t know that an acre of land in Africa is being bought for this amount. And families who live and work on the land are being stripped of their basic right to life and well-being.
This seems crazy right? There is no way that this can be true? They can’t be getting that much land for that little amount of money right? Wrong. According to a 2011 publication by NuWire Investor, one hectare (2.47 acres) of land costs $32,000 in the US — and foreign investors grab it for less than the price of Starbucks coffee in Africa.
This phenomenon is called land grabbing, the new form of colonization of developing countries many of which in Africa has reached new heights in recent history due to corrupt governments who don’t have their people’s interests in mind. The land is in some cases is leased for several generations by the government often without Proper Free, Prior and Informed Consent (PFPIC) of a community — leaving them high and dry in the deal.
According to Washington-based advocacy organization Africa Faith and Justice Network, as of June 2012 shady deals that trick locals and governments have grabbed a total of 876,000 square miles. This is equivalent in size to California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia and the East Coast (from Maine to Florida). This number has only increased since then and it has displaced farmers and families and ruined their livelihood while pushing them further into poverty and a food crisis.
There is no way that any U.S.-based company could be involved in such a terrible thing, right? We believe in freedom and basic human rights for everyone! Wrong again. Herakles Farms, a New York-based company acquired a land lease contract of 73,086 hectares (180,599.4 acres) in 2009 from the Cameroonian government and 3,715 acres in Ghana for oil palm farming. Most of which was expected to be exported to other countries creating a profit margin that would blow your mind.
Cheap land and cheap labor for a product that is in virtually in everything including makeup, lotion and food means big money for them. But what about the people whose land they took? Well, some are working on the land for very small wages, other have been displaced and many have very little to no land to grow their own food — further perpetuating financial hardship and the food security crisis in Africa.
Not only do these large farms take the land and not give back to those they took it from, but they also ruin the land they are on. So once they get all the use they can, they leave the people with depleted soil, and no means for jobs or food. In many cases, the unregulated use of fertilizer contaminate the rivers which is the most popular source of drinking water.
So why does this all matter?
In cases where the government is not involved, people have been manipulated into entering land agreements that end up hurting them, their family and all who benefit from the food supply chain they are part of.
This huge issue is not hard to understand and tackle. Helping the affected people, governments, and those who have not been affected must be warned of seriousness of the short term and long term consequences of land grab is what non-profit organizations such as the Africa Faith and Justice Network(AFJN) have been doing for over 23 years.
AFJN takes direct action in the fight by speaking up to Congress about the issues and educates them to make conscious and educated choices to help Africans. They also help the people in Africa speak up for themselves and take a stand together to refuse to sell their land as well as petitioning legal suits against activists who have already been oppressed of their right to free speech. AFJN was a major force in theContinental Conference on Land Grab and Just Governance in Nairobi in November 2015. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the AFJN website where you can learn more about land grabbing and the work that AFJN does to stop it, as well as to make a donation to help AFJN fight the big fight.
By: Rebecca Short, Intern Spring 2016. Also published on The Odyssey