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Other Voices: Stop demonizing foreign investors in agriculture, they're not grabbing land

Monday, July 04, 2011

Author: Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa

The rising food prices are stimulating interest in investing in African agriculture. But these investments have been criticized as a new form of colonialism at best and downright land-grabbing at worst.

A new report from the US-based Oakland Institute says that in 2009 alone, foreign investors leased or bought an area nearly the size of France (about 60 million hectares).

It is true that many of the land deals are not structured to benefit local communities. But it is wrong to claim that such investments will only help promote food exports at the expense of local needs. Such claims ignore Africa's determination to harness emerging technologies to promote agricultural development. The efforts are being promoted as part of larger strategies to stimulate economic transformation.

For example, in early 2011, the Saudi Star Agricultural Development, a food firm owned by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, announced plans to invest $2.5 billion in Ethiopia by 2020 to produce rice.

Ethiopia-based firms will lease idle arable land in the lowlands of the country. This is part of Ethiopia's plan to lease three million hectares to private investors over the next four years. Critics argue that Ethiopia should bank the land so that it can use it to feed itself in futu......................

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