Posted 06 July 2011, by John Muchangi, Nairobi Star, nairobistar.com
Kenya risks leasing out huge tracts of land in rushed, one-sided deals that may create new social and environment problems, according to new reports questioning such deals across the continent.
The reports say most contracts are heavily biased in favour of foreign investors. They grant them long-term access to public and community land at very low costs. There is also little to safeguard benefits for local people and the environment.
Foreign companies are currently acquiring large amounts of lands in Kenya and other African countries to grow food crops for export and for biofuels.
In Land deals in Africa: What is in the contracts? author Lorenzo Cotula analysed several contracts and found that most were negotiated in secret “Expected benefits are often in the form of jobs or irrigation and infrastructure development, rather than rental fees,” he says in the report produced by London-based think-tank, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
The report analyses 12 recent contracts through which investors have leased millions of hectares of land in East, West, Central and Southern Africa for farming. It found many problems with the contracts but also some signs of positive deals.
In Kenya, multinationals have applied for 500,000-plus hectares of land – more than five times the size of Nairobi – to do large scale farming and mining. The government earlier agreed to lease 40,000 hectares in the Tana River Delta to the Government of Qatar to grow crops to feed the people of Qatar.
Further, an Italian company, Kenya Biofuel Ltd, has been allowed to convert 5,000 acres of Dakatcha woodland at the Coast and plant Jatropha.
The investor had asked for 50,000 acres to plant Jatropha but that was scaled-down to 5,000 for “trial” after protests by conservation groups. “I will use any means to ensure the project begins,” Magarini MP and Fisheries minister Amason Kingi, who is the area MP, said recently.
In Nyanza, Belgium Company HG consulting is expected to put 42,000 hectares of land under sugarcane production while Dominion Farms Ltd has invested in 17,500 hectares around the Yala Swamp. There are other projects in the works, mostly at the Coast.
A second report released in Nairobi last week by Oxfam predicts food riots in East Africa, saying decreasing farmland will severely limit food production in the next 20 years. Oxfam is grouping of 15 international organisations which campaigns against poverty and injustice.
Its report, Growing A Better Future: Food Justice In a Resource-Constrained World, Oxfam advises governments to stop leasing fertile farmland and grazing land to foreign companies for tourism, large-scale agriculture for exports and biofuels. The report says African governments should instead support women and small scale farmers.
Oxfam projects food prices across the world will double in the 20 years and biofuels will increase hunger in Africa. “The grain required to fill the fuel tank of one 4×4 vehicle with ethanol is enough to feed one person for a year,” said Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s pan Africa director. Oxfam says with the current trends, population will far outstrip food production.
The latest revision of United Nation’s World Population Prospects, for instance, shows that Kenya will be grappling with 71.5 million people in the next 20 years, yet maize production is only expected to rise by a third.
The country is currently unable to feed its 40 million people, and is a major maize importer despite having large tracts of unfarmed arable land. Irungu says African countries can produce enough food if they stop leasing land to other countries and instead empower women and small scale farmers. “Food is about power – those with power and money can eat, those without cannot. Africa is abundant with resources, yet governments fail to invest effectively in its biggest resources – its people and its land,” he says.
Already in the Tana Delta, where different foreign companies are jostling for more than 300,000 hectares land, indigenous communities are feeling the pinch.
About 250,000 villagers in Tana and Lamu, where a Canadian company wants 130,000 hectares to plant sugarcane for ethanol, have already been threatened with eviction notices. “Farmers in Wema and pastoralists in Dida Waride affirmed that they would die first before moving out of their land,” says Nature Kenya’s advocacy officer Serah Munguti, who leads a campaign to protect the Tana Delta. This is an expansive area where Kenya’s biggest river, the Tana River, branches out before emptying into the Indian Ocean.
She says it is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. It supports more than 350 species of birds, including globally threatened birds such as the Basra reed warbler, for which the delta is a critical wintering site, and two threatened primates found nowhere else in the world – Tana red colobus and Tana River mangabey. But some political leaders and locals accuse the NGOs of blocking developments at the Coast.
Magarini MP Kingi says the Italian Jatropha project will, for instance, create 7,000 jobs. Most villagers in this region are poor, jobless and the government has not sponsored any irrigation project there. “It is godsend,” says Mohammed Gule, a jobless father of six in Magarini.
District environment officer Samuel Ng’ang’a told the Star the 5,000-acre Jatropha project has already been licensed but the National Environment Management Authority in Nairobi contradicted this.
Other parties with projects include Bedford Bio fuels Inc, a private multinational company based in Canada, which wanted 90,000 hectares through 45-year lease agreements. They have been licensed a smaller portion to grow Jatropha curcas. Mumias Sugar Company and Tarda will jointly get 20,000 hectares for a Sh24 billion sugarcane project. The fifth, Tiomin Kenya Ltd, a company incorporated in Canada, mines titanium near Kwale.
The report by IIED expresses fears that nearly all farming companies surveyed have not created the jobs they promised. There are no mechanisms to force them to do so, says Cotula, the report author.
He says most contracts reviewed across Africa lack enforceable commitments, or fail to provide detail about how many and what kind of jobs the investment will create. “Some of the contracts analysed by the report are just a few pages long, with scant details on what investors should do to ensure that risks will be properly managed and that expected benefits will materialise,” he says.
Changamwe MP Ramadhan Kajembe, expresses a similar concern. “What happens to the owner of the land where minerals have been discovered? Is he going to benefit in any way?” he asked recently at a meeting to draft legislation on land use and natural resources provisions of the Constitution.
An exception is Liberia where contracts stand out for their shorter duration. They are also specific commitments on jobs and greater attention to local food security. In addition, the Liberian contracts are ratified by Parliament and are available online. Kenyan contracts are not available to the public. Head of Kenya Land Alliance Odede Lumumba says deals shrouded in secrecy cannot be good deals.
KLA is an alliance of 117 civil society organisations and individuals advocating for reform of policies and laws governing land in Kenya. “Mutually beneficial decisions need to be made, and this cannot happen when land agreements continue to take place without involvement of the public,” Lumumba said recently during the meeting on Politics of Food Security in Eastern Africa meeting.”The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don’t ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land,” World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said last year when the bank released its report on land deals.
The IIED notes agricultural investment can bring benefits to developing nations, but large land deals carry big risks as local people may lose access to the land and resources they have used for generations.”The more promising investments are those that involve supporting local smallholders, rather than large plantations,” their report says.