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July 12, 2011

Investors in scramble for South Sudan’s fertile land

by Mwaura Kimani

Southern Sudan...Africa’s latest independent state...revelations that foreign investors are quickly chalking up huge tracts of fertile land in the country.

A report by the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), shows foreign and domestic companies have acquired large amounts of rural land through leases with communities and government institutions — at least a tenth of Southern Sudan. This is exposing the country to possible food problems and conflict in the coming years even as reconstruction gains a footing, security analysts and humanitarian organisations warned.

Over the past four years, foreign interests sought or acquired 2.64 million hectares (26,400 sq km) in the agriculture, forestry and biofuel sectors alone — an area that is larger than the whole of Rwanda.

Add to that domestic investments in tourism and conservation, some of which date back to the pre-war period, and the figure shoots to 5.74 million hectares (57,400 sq km), or nine per cent of South Sudan’s total land area, shows the report by NPA.

Experts are warning that while the investments provide the much-needed impetus to the post-conflict reconstruction efforts, they risk becoming sources of food insecurity, instability, social unrest and conflict.

Like in many African countries, land is usually an emotive issue, a fact NPA says could turn tragic for Sudan which is still reeling from years of conflict, and the legal ambiguity of the transitional period. In the past few years, massive amounts of land in Africa have been bought by foreign organisations especially in countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique.

As a solution, experts suggested South Sudan should put a moratorium on large-scale land acquisitions until stability is achieved.

“Since most investment projects are not yet operational, Southern Sudanese are not yet feeling their impact in any tangible way. As a result, most Southern Sudanese are still very eager to attract investment and may not fully appreciate the costs in doing so,” said researchers at NPA.

''Therefore, the government should conduct a review of existing investment agreements to ensure that they have followed the appropriate procedures. This review should ensure that leases comply with the terms of the Land Act, the Investment Promotion Act, and the Local Government Act with respect to the length of investments, the need to consult with affected communities prior to making decisions concerning land allocation, and the conduct of environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) before issuing leases,” said the NPA researchers.

full article...The East African

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