The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading

The Feminization of Migration and the Fight Against HIV


[crossposted at Future Challenges Organization’s blog]

Is there a direct relationship between the feminization of migration and HIV prevalence on the African continent? The answer is more complicated than it appears. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the aftershocks of regional conflict have had disproportionate impacts on African women, the assumption that HIV/AIDS and conflict/displacement are somehow related is spurious. Yes, migration in its myriad forms- primarily labor migration and forced migration- does add risk factors that contribute to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot say that it is a direct relationship. Women who migrate for work face vulnerabilities (risk factors including separation from partners, family, loss of support base) that increase their chances of being infected with HIV.

Areas where there are disruptions in the social order tend to have higher HIV rates. This includes war zones, impoverished and disenfranchised outer-city slums. There are various forms of migration: examples include forced migration due to regional conflict or land grabs or labor migration in response to high regional unemployment. It is important to note that in the last fifteen years, we have seen the feminization of migration on a global scale. A majority of refugees and internally displaced people are women and their children, and an increasing percentage of migrant laborers are women. A growing number of rural-to-urban migrantsare women in both Asia and Africa. Globally, women represent about 50 percent of the migrants.

Areas with low levels of education, high unemployment tend to have high rates of circular labor migration. In South Africa, gendered migration patterns were largely due to the several factors. First, a decline in patriarchal control, plus the end of Apartheid afforded women greater mobility. Prior to the fall of the Apartheid government, Influx Control Acts specifically granted economically-productive (Black) African men the right to migrate for work, while limiting their female counterparts‘ mobility.

In 1995, 38% of South African women ages 15-65 were actively looking for work. In 1999, that figure was 95%. This trend South African women entering the migrant labor force occured in the context of decreasing marital rates and income insecurity. Taking all of these factors into account, there is a trend of women increasingly constituting temporary, migrant labor populations. Migration is essential to economic well-being- especially for women.

In West Africa, migration patterns have been a mainstay of the regional economic bloc, dating back to the trans-Saharan trade of the 8th century. This includes North-South migration within Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria and the longer distance migration between the northern Sahelian countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and the coastal countries to the south. Historically, migrant populations have been mostly male, but recently, women have comprised significant number.

High HIV Prevalence Among Migrant Women:

There is a circular relationship between HIV and population mobility.  Migrants face separation from their partners and families, also separation from the social mores that might govern their behavior- particularly when they face loneliness and isolation in communities that are not theirs. Additionally, migrants‘ vulnerability to exploitation is exacerbated by a loss of localized social support systems, linguistic differences and power imbalances between job seeker and employer. For migrant women, especially refugees and internally displaced persons, sexual violence is a risk factor. For all migrants, lack of access to healthcare is a major factor in heightened prevalences of HIV among migrant populations.

Labor Migration

In South Africa and Northern Tanzania, migrant women have higher prevalences of HIV than their non-migrant counterparts. This is due, in part, to the fact that the sex trade serves as a complementary work sector to local mining industries. In the mining sector, workers often live away from their spouses, living in company-owned housing. For this reason, among others, there is a demand for a localized sex industry. Within the sex trade, young girls often recruit their peers, citing opportunity and income. However, for the less-fortunate, sex trafficking is their entry into sex work. I discuss the overlap between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS in Africa in this article.

Forced Migration

A 2007 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCRreport questions the commonly-held belief that there is  direct relationship between conflict, forced migration and wartime rape and increased HIV prevalence among internally-displaced persons and refugees. The data, culled from seven countries/regions affected by conflict [Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone] revealed that there was no increase in prevalence of HIV infection during periods of conflict. However, it is important to note that the sample population was primarily refugee and IDP women and children who sought and received antenatal care.

There is no substantive evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities. With the exception of the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Most refugees on the African continent are fleeing rural areas- which typically have lower HIV prevalence- affected by conflict. This may explain why refugees generally have a lower HIV prevalence than that of their host communities. In Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, HIV prevalence in urban areas  affected by conflict had similar rates to urban areas unaffected by conflict. In the rural areas of these countries, the prevalence of HIV infections remained relatively low and stable. Furthermore, there is no evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities.

One of the challenges here is to broaden the sample population beyond the minority of refugees who had access to medical care. While the regions of origin for most refugees and IDPs are rural areas are typically characterized by low HIV prevalence, we cannot assume the same for future conflicts. Unchallenged assumptions about trends in migration, pandemics and regional conflict will only endanger the most vulnerable among us.


Article: Diaspora Remittances to Africa: The Donor’s Perspective

[Crosslinked with Future Challenges Organization]

Diaspora aid has surpassed international aid on the continent of Africa. I‘d like to propose that we view aid from international and supranational bodies like the World Bank, United Nations, etc as a supplemental source of monies. Africa does not need the paternalistic and self-serving aid of neo-liberal governing bodies. Between 1960 and 2003, the continent of Africa has received over $600 billion in aid. Estimates from the World Bank indicate that remittances by the Africa Diaspora have continued to grow over time, with roughly US$30 billion remitted in 2007. This amount is more than double the amount of international aid received. In 2010, Nigeria‘s diaspora remittances totaled $12 billion.  The overarching trend is that diaspora remittances are increasing, despite the global economic downturn and global food price inflation.

According to the World Bank, in 2006, remittances to Kenya were roughly  $525 million, or the equivalent of 2.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Between 2006 and 2010, Kenya‘s annual remittances  increased nearly 300%. Kenyans living abroad sent home $1.9 billion in the past 12 months, more than triple the amount previously estimated by the World Bank.

Remittances to Uganda in 2006 were $845 million, or 9.3 percent of the GDP. Uganda‘s remittances increased from $845 million to about $2 billion between 2006 and 2010. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has reported that remittances from Zimbabweans living abroad increased 32.9 percent in 2010 to about $263.3 million. Rwanda‘s remittances hit $172.4 million in 2010, rising 23.3 percent despite the global recession. On the other hand, Tanzania, a formerly closed nation, receives much lower levels of remittances, both in real terms ($16 million) and as a percentage of GDP (0.1 %). For nations like Uganda, Nigeria or Zimbabwe, remittances make up a significant percentage of the gross domestic product.  What‘s more important is the recipients‘ perspective. These remittances offer the advantages of allowing children to remain in school, providing the seed capital for small businesses and covering the costs of basic medical care.

Possible Hindrances to Diaspora Remittances

There are several factors that may be a hindrance to sustained growth in diaspora remittances. Among these are prohibitive bank account transfer fees. Also, Western Union‘s fee for wire transfers can be up to 20 percent of the remitted monies. However, it must be noted that reducing the transfer fees is detrimental to African money transfer business. A possible partnership between Western Union and MTN Group would lower money transfer costs on the continent of Africa. Also, Western Union can work cooperatively with African money transfer businesses.

Another factor is inflation in North America & Europe; increase in commodity prices affect how much money members of the African diaspora can send back. A possible but unlikely solution is for nations like France, UK and the US to make these remittances tax decuctible. However, on a macroeconomic scale, inflation is a global issue. The interdependence of currency markets alone highlights the extent to which our world is globalized.

The growth in diaspora remittances over the last decade bode very well for the recipient families and the communities in which they invest those funds. Similarly, the fact that children whose families receive remittances from relatives abroad are able to stay in school longer is heartening. While highlighting the positive, we also have to cast our gaze upon the possible challenges. Diaspora remittances are essential to the growth of Africa- especially on a microeconomic scale. Therefore, it is important to address any hindrances to the sustained growth of diaspora remittances to Africa.

Addressing Human Trafficking on the Continent of Africa

A Boy Harvests Tea Leaves in Kenya (Human Trafficking)

[Cross-Posted at Future Challenges]

Scan the newspaper headlines and you might see the words „white slavery“ or „human trafficking.“  Neither of these phrases conveys the full injustice that is trafficking in persons.   Trafficking refers to the movement of human beings across borders- state, country and continental.  This movement will usually be from a country of origin to a country of destination.  There are links between emigration/immigration and human trafficking- especially where smugglers and traffickers (associated w/ organized crime) overlap. The fact is that there are an estimated 27 million enslaved people on this planet- more than at any point in history.  This is an estimate, as human trafficking is the 3rd largest underground industry- very difficult to track.

In addition to this, the price of a slave is at a historical low- the global average is about $90.  The price of a human being has collapsed at the point when the number of slaves reached historical heights.  Continue reading