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February 06, 2012

Africa land grabs 'could cause conflict'

The stampede by wealthy states for arable land across Africa and other developing regions could trigger a series of conflicts if governments fail to protect the rights of their people, two recent studies on land grabs warn.

"Controversial land acquisitions were key a factor triggering the civil wars in Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone and there is every reason to be concerned that conditions are ripe for new conflicts to occur in many other places," cautioned Jeffrey Hatcher, director of global programs with Rights and Resources Initiative, a US-based non governmental organization.

RRI estimates that a 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on 3.46 billion acres of communally held farmland that has been a primary target of foreign governments and investors seeking to produce food specifically for non-African populations.

In a December 2011 report, the International Land Coalition, a global network of civil society and farmers' organizations, estimated the global rush for land claimed 494 million acres in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000-10.

ILC zeroed in on West Africa, where it said land acquisitions by foreign entities were causing major environmental and agricultural damage along the River Niger, at 2,265 miles the third longest river in Africa after the Nile and the Congo.

On Jan. 20, two Liberian land campaigners wrote in The New York Times that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, was likely "sowing the seeds of future conflict by handing over huge tracts of land to foreign investors and dispossessing rural Liberians."

They alleged that in 2006-11, Sirleaf "granted more than a third of Liberia's land to private investors to use for logging, mining and agro-industrial enterprises.

"Today, more than 7 million acres have become forestry and agricultural concessions," they said.

Some 1.6 million acres went to the Sime Darby Corp. of Malaysia and Golden Veroleum, a subsidiary of the New York's Verdant Fund L.P.

Local communities in the region, where 150,000 of the 1 million people will be disposed without being consulted or compensated by their government, have temporarily blocked the Malaysian company's plans to plant oil palms on 523,800 acres of land leased from the Freetown government.

The company has reportedly frozen its operations following an appeal to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international certification body.


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