In five short years, rich countries have acquired about 80 million hectares of land in Africa and other developing countries in what is now a worrying trend.
Critics have dubbed this “the big land grab”, or “the new type of neo-colonialism”. What is happening?
Now, foreigners have always owned land in Africa. What is new in this “second scramble for Africa” is the scale, size and more importantly, the exclusion of civil society and local communities in the process.
The United Nations has very little data, and the governments or corporations involved are not willing to talk.
Land acquisition of such a scale in Africa was last witnessed in the historical scramble for the continent more than a century ago, when European powers met in Berlin, Germany, drew arbitrary lines on a piece of paper, and shared the different parts of the continent among themselves.
Host governments are generally receptive to these acquisitions for obvious reasons: they offer various opportunities to create jobs, increase foreign direct investments and of course, for the extraction of rent.
But questions are emerging about the implications of these land deals, especially the exposure of economically fragile groups to further marginalisation through speculation and land rights transfers, loss of access to land and resources for pastoralists, small-scale agricultural producers, and subsistence farmers.