Since 2009, around 60 million hectares of African land have been sold or leased to western multinationals, with 70 percent of these acquisitions concentrated in Sub Saharan Africa. The revealing documentary Land Rush by Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat for the organization Why Poverty? analyzes an episode of land grabbing in Mali that ended when investors were scared off during the coup d’état of 2012. In a recent interview with Italian TV station Rai Storia, Slow Food President Carlo Petrini gave the following comment:
“Land grabbing is a phenomenon characterized by exponential growth, increasing from one day to the next. The private companies and governments that are acquiring African land through long-term leases or purchase are taking advantage of a situation in which the western concept of land ownership does not exist and many areas are still used traditionally by farming or nomadic peoples. With the consent of rogue local governments, communities are left stranded overnight, unable to work or prosper without the primary resource of all subsistence economies: land.
Discussions about foreign investments in African often refer to them as win-win situations, but they fail to analyze their compatibility with the environment and resources or to examine the impact on communities, which are often left completely impoverished and without prospect. Aggravating the situation further is the lack of any international governance in the face of this form of neocolonialism.
Yet, land grabbing can’t be hushed-up, just as we refuse to ignore the scandal of food waste – a strongly connected problem. In fact, if the global food system produces more than enough food and we can’t manage to eradicate waste, we will never be able to guarantee the food sovereignty of individual populations, nor guarantee them enough land to cultivate.
We point the finger at China, India and Arab nations when we speak of land grabbing, but we’re denying our own involvement. The responsibility also lies with Europe, with individual nations. In addition to the multinationals and governments, investment banking is a significant player, selling land as if it were just another financial product. We can’t ignore these banks on our home territory. We must condemn the situation or risk becoming complicit through our savings.
The land grabbing phenomenon shows us that we are facing a geopolitical crisis, requiring international governance, political conscience and new paradigms: in essence, a fight against waste and a return to the land. We must regain possession of our food sovereignty, giving young people the prospect of a secure life. In the future we will not eat computers or information. We will eat bread, potatoes, eggplants and carrots. We need to ensure that we’re capable of producing them.”
Carlo Petrini is the founder and President of Slow Food
Find out more about Slow Food's campaign against land grabbing.