Modern-Day Land Rush Displacing Thousands in Africa

Advocates say large-scale land acquisitions can only work when international investors follow regulation and have respect for local communities.  

Posted: 10/03/2011 07:00 AM EDT
Filed Under Africa

Is the developing world the final frontier? Apparently some companies and investors think so.  

Reports show that international corporations, investors and organizations are hastily acquiring large swaths of land in Sub-Saharan Africa and across the developing world, and advocates say many players aren’t playing by the rules. Oxfam estimates that, in total, foreigners have acquired 227 million hectares of land across the developing world and at least of half of that figure has occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“It’s a trend that we’re seeing in a lot of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa but generally around the developing world,” Rohit Malpani, senior campaigns advisor for Oxfam told

“We really believe that while private sector investment is needed in these countries and the mix of skills and resources and finance could be of great benefit … it must be done in a way that respects the rights of local communities and that ensures that they can truly benefit.” Malpani said.

The increased thirst for land is being fueled by worldwide food shortages, growing water shortages and the European Union's mandate that member nations have until 2015 to ensure that 10% of all transport fuel comes from plant-based biofuels.

But although the land acquisitions have the potential to help other nations with their food, water and fuel issues, many find them to be a backwards means of progression for the developing world. In Ethiopia, despite being home to more than 13 million impoverished people, the government offered roughly 7.5 million acres of fertile land to rich countries and wealthy investors to export food for their population back home.

The latest example of a botched land grab can be found in Uganda, where at least 22,500 people have lost their homes and land to make way for a British timber company, New Forests Company (NFC), backed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. Oxfam reports that residents were forcibly removed, and now, do not have enough food or money to send their children to school or continue their livelihood.

But in addition to corporate haste and disrespect for local populations, Malpani says local governments also have a role to play and the surrounding conditions in many of the nations experiencing land grabs have made conditions ripe for exploitation.

“Its important to recognize that there are many problems at the local level,” he said.

“There are very confusing land tenure systems and I think there’s a lot of confusion from that mixed in with an unwillingness or often an inability of national governments to provide effective protection of local communities.”