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

Africa’s Corn Monocultures and the Global Commodities Market

[Crossposted at Future Challenges Organization]

How does the increased diversion of corn for biofuel production affect African farmers?

The history of corn in Africa can be traced back to the early 1500s, when Portuguese explorers recorded the cultivation of what they termed „zaburro“ or „mehiz“ (derived from the word „maize“) on the Cape Verde Islands. Corn, or maize, is indigenous to what is now known as Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Maya and Aztec. In some parts of West and East Africa, corn supplanted the roles of sorghum, millet and rice in local diets. It is versatile- eaten in the early stages of ripeness, boiled or roasted and even dried and ground for staples like ugali in East Africa and kenkey in West Africa. The continent of Africa is unique in that most of the corn it produces is consumed by humans, compared to North America and Europe where corn is used as livestock feed. However, corn monocultures and the diversion of corn toward biofuel production in the dual contexts of climate change and fickle global commodity markets pose risks to food security on the African continent. 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.

Are Diaspora Remittances A Solution to Africa’s Underdevelopment?

[Globalization + Migration + New Governance]

[Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s Blog]

Poverty is recognizable. It is conveyed easily and simplistically by images of malnourished children who live with social instability, food insecurity and undereducation. However, this is not the whole story. Poverty is not simply the antithesis of prosperity, it is the result of systemic and structural inequalities, as well as inequality on as individual, relational level. Africa, a continent rich with mineral wealth and human capital is impoverished insofar as inequality persists. Structural problems, like lack of supportive infrastructure that would enable the success of small businesses- bureaucracy, roads, buildings, schools and accessible, affordable healthcare. With this in mind, money is not the answer to poverty and socioeconomic inequality.

Poverty alleviation programs put money into the hands of impoverished individuals and expand the tax base. In addition to allowing them to participate in the economy, it also expands the government‘s tax base, allowing for revenue for public goods like roads, schools and hospitals. However, it is important to note that money is not the way out of poverty, nor is food the answer to hunger. Aid is a short-term answer that does not address the long-term problems of inequality, lack of infrastructure and displacement of people from their land. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), a comparison of optimal aid allocation versus actual flow of aid for selected African countries shows that only 20 percent of global aid allocated to Africa is consistent with UN (United Nations) Millenium Development Goal 1: promotion of economic growth,poverty-reduction and ending hunger. The long-term solutions have to be comprehensive: equipping impoverished people with skills, tools and assets. Similarly, to address food insecurity and hunger, long-term solutions such as sustainable irrigation practices.

What separates diaspora remittances from aid? Well, first of all, the money that members of the African diaspora send to their respective homelands far exceeds aid monies donated by supranational organizations and governments.As of May 2011, annual remittances to the continent have exceeded 40 billion US dollars. According to the World Bank, remittances to sub-Saharan Africa totaled 21.5 billion USD. Secondly, the flow of diaspora remittances is more microeconomic in nature. Whether remittances are sent transnationally or internationally, they are a function of migration being essential to economic well-being. Sowing directly into family members, diasporans are making investments into the well-being of their families.

According to World Bank figures, the top ten recipients of diaspora remittances on the African continent in 2010 were:

  • Nigeria ($10.0 B)
  • Sudan ($3.2 B)
  • Kenya ($1.8 B)
  • Senegal ($1.2 B)
  • South Africa ($1 B)
  • Uganda ($0.8 B)
  • Lesotho ($0.5 B)
  • Ethiopia ($0.4 B)
  • Mali ($0.4 B)
  • Togo ($0.3 B) Continue reading

Securing the Rights and Protections of Africa’s Sex Workers

[Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s blog]

Sex work is a business that requires only one‘s bodily capital. The economics of scarcity are often a factor in making sex work a viable and lucrative option for women and men.  Because sex work is illegal in 37 African nations, sex workers are often criminalized and subjected to harassment at the hands of policemen and government officials. In addition to criminalization, the migration that often accompanies sex work makes it harder to gather viable statistics on how many sex workers there are within one nation, or even track their transnational movement. In Southern and East Africa, sex work often occurs at the borders where bureaucratic processes leave truck drivers waiting for permission to enter the country. The wait can last from hours to days. Also, the sex trade is a complementary industry to mining industry, where mine workers are sometimes live away from their spouses and families in compounds.

Challenges include mobility, criminalization, language differences, cultural norms and entrenched traditions. However, this has not stopped sex workers across Africa from organizing collectively to raise awareness and campaign for an end to violence against sex workers.The African Sex Workers Alliance  (ASWA) is working in Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya to decriminalize sex work and expand the rights of sex workers. In Kenya, the African Sex Workers Alliance marked December 17th, 2010 as the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. In Abuja, Nigeria, sex workers demonstrated for their rights and protections on March 3rd, which is International Sex Worker Rights Day.

In South Africa, where prostitution has been illegal since 1957, sex workers report regular harassment by the police. The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) is following up on all cases alleging harassment or wrongful arrest by the police. The Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, based in Johannesburg, had a large number of calls from sex workers who were arrested or assaulted by South African police following the March 3rd demonstration for the International Sex Worker Rights Day. In Johannesburg, Cape Town and Mussina, South African sex workers took to the streets and demonstrated with signs and red umbrellas. However, after the protests, some sex workers faced harassment from the police. Some reports included demands for bribes in the form of sexual favors or money in order to avoid arrest. Kyomya Macklean, South Africa‘s regional coordinator for the African Sex Worker Alliance, stated:

“People who brutalize sex workers do so with the hope that sex workers will feel too afraid to come out and report these events. Can these police officers not see that these women have feelings and that they were really scared or do they simply see sex workers as an object? When you kicked her do you not have any sense of remorse and concern for the victim or is this something that brings you enjoyment, a malicious and tic violence that comes from acting as a law unto yourself and feeling power, control and pleasure in hurting the other and reducing them to feeling helpless? But I want you to know, we will not be turned into objects and we will have the courage to be powerful and seek justice and demand we are treat with respect. You will not take taking away and undermine our capacity to experience ourselves in powerful and independent women.”

HIV/AIDS and Access to Healthcare

The HIV prevalance among sex workers in some nations in sub-Saharan Africa are up to 20 times higher than that of the general population. In Southern and East Africa, HIV prevalence in the general population is much higher than that in West Africa. However, up to a third of West African sex workers are living with HIV or AIDS. In Ghana, female sex workers, their clients and the sexual partners of those clients made up 33 percent of new reported HIV infections in 2009. This figure was 10 percent in Uganda, and 14 percent in Kenya.

The criminalization of homosexuality (it‘s a capital crime in Mauritania, Sudan and the Central African Republic) makes it difficult to find reliable statistics on HIV prevalence among male and transgender sex workers. One study in Mombasa, Kenya found that less than half of male sex workers interviewed consistently used condoms with their male clients. Condom usage among male sex workers was similarly low with female clients.

In Kenya, there is a condom shortage. The Kenyan government stopped importing condoms produced in China because they were of poor quality. The US‘ Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief has sent 45 million to Kenya. According to Peter Cherutich, the Deputy Director of Kenya‘s National AIDS Control Programme, the government signed a long-term agreement with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) to supply 180 million condoms in May. Additionally, female condoms, while convenient and effective in preventing pregnancy, are cost-prohibitive.

It is clear that accessible, good-quality healthcare is needed- especially for sex workers who have contracted sexually transmitted infections, which are co-factors for contracting HIV and for sex workers who are living with HIV/AIDS. This care extends beyond services like HIV counseling, testing, and therapy. Effective healthcare for stigmatized and criminalized populations like sex workers hinge heavily on the sensitivity of the personnel in the medical care center. Staff attitudes are instrumental to making patients feel as though they can ask for much-needed services without judgment. Additionally, waiting times, language barriers and environments that are not child-friendly can be impediments to vital healthcare.


Sex work is very risky on several fronts. Legally, sex work and sex workers are criminalized. Socially, attitudes toward sex work tend to excuse violence and abuse levied against sex workers. Physically, there is a risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and diseases like Hepatitis A, B, Syphilis and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In addition, the overlap between drug use and sex work increases the likelihood of spreading HIV through injection-drug use infection.

Harm reduction methodologies include peer education, training in condom-use negotiating skills, safety training for street-based sex workers and community-based child protection networks. Harm reduction is just what the name implies- sensitive, responsive, non-judgmental approaches to education, empowerment and equipping within marginalized or stigmatized populations- in this case, sex workers.  The emphasis on education, empowerment and equipping is significant because it recognizes sex workers are individuals capable of making choices in their best interest with the information that is available to them. Rather than positioning them as victims, harm reduction approaches tend to focus on whole individuals with particular needs.

Among Chadian sex workers, peer-to-peer education and counseling has proven to be the most cost-effective form of outreach and empowerment. It is also one of the most sustainable approaches, because as veteran sex workers counsel less-experienced sex workers Continue reading

Push Factors For Rural-Urban Migration on the African Continent

Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s blog.

[Macrotrends: Migration + Demographic Change + Natural Resources & BioDiversity]

As of 2010, Africa‘s 412 million city dwellers far exceed North America‘s 286 million. It is estimated that by 2025, more than half of Africa‘s population (60 percent) will live and work in urban centers, compared with 14.5 percent in 1950, 28 percent in 1980 and 34 percent in 1990. In 1960, Joannesburg was the only city in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of over a million; however, by 1970, there where four: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kinshasa (in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Lagos (Nigeria). By 2010, there were 33 African cities with populations of over 1 million, including: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi (Kenya), Khartoum (Sudan), Luanda (Angola), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Dakar (Senegal).

The United Nations Population Fund‘s 2007 „State of World Population“ reportestimated that 72 percent of sub-Saharan Africa‘s urban population lives in slum conditions. This is partly due to the fact that on the continent of Africa, urbanization typically outpaces infrastructure building and expansion in local governance. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also projects that between 2000 and 2030, sub-Saharan Africa‘s population will double.

The continent of Africa has the highest rates of urbanization globally and millions of Africans are migrating within their countries, as an estimated 20 percent do not live in their birthplaces. Continue reading

Article: How a Street Drug Affects South Africa‘s Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s blog

Macrotrends: [Pandemics + Security & Antiterror Policy]

A new drug, whoonga, has hit the streets of South Africa- most prominently in Durban‘s impoverished townships. Whoonga is a cocktail of heroin, crystal meth, cannabis and various unknown chemicals- which likely include detergent powder and rat poison. More relevantly, one of the more popular ingredients of this street drugs is antiretroviral drugs for AIDS. Increasing demand for whoonga has had detrimental effects on South Africa‘s fight against HIV/AIDS. There have been reports of clinics being robbed, as well as illicit sales of life-saving antiretroviral drugs to drug dealers and addicts. These factors undermine impoverished HIV-positive patients‘ access to treatment.

Whoonga in Durban today is comparable to Tik in Cape Town in 2007. Both are highly addictive and relatively cheap. Both also have crack meth as active ingredients. However, whoonga costs about twenty Rand (about three US dollars) a hit, whereas tik is about thirty-three Rands (about 5 US dollars) a hit. When 40 per cent of all South Africans survive on about $2 a day, this no doubt, contributes to crime rates (particularly theft). Consequently, the demand for whoonga is affecting South Africa‘s fight against HIV/AIDS directly. The average whoonga user needs six or seven hits a day, but for most users, this is too expensive. Continue reading