Large Scale Foreign Land Acquisitions: Neoliberal Opportunities or Neocolonial Challenges?
Abstract: Over the last decade, a dramatic rise in commercial agricultural investment has taken place the world over at a rate much higher than previous times. Some of the causes that spurred this whole business happen to be mainly the food security concerns of food poor countries as in the case of the Gulf states, a shift of focus by western based investment banks, hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds towards less volatile assets such as land in the aftermath of the 2007/08 global financial crises, drought induced food export restrictions by major food exporting countries such as India and Russia, only to mention some of them. Huge private companies, government sponsored firms and even highly reputed US universities such as Harvard and Vanderbilt, among others, then took an aggressive move in acquiring large tracts of land across Africa, Latin America, Asia and to some degree in Europe, and massively invested on them. Latest reports indicate that an amount of land well over 80 million hectares have been put up to the global market, much of which has already been effectively leased by investors. Even though this practice of large scale foreign land acquisitions is fairly a matter of global reach, a staggering 75 percent of this whole business has so far taken place in Africa alone. This simply made the continent a spotlight case and lured attention into questioning as to how these investments are taking place and what sort of ramifications may be born out in result. Departing from neoliberal and neocolonial discourses from whose perspective the recent expansion of the practice has been analyzed, this thesis has made an attempt to analyze how the stake of Africa in the growing practice of large scale land acquisitions can be looked up on and explained. Seeking to narrow down focus and do a practical analysis, three sub- Saharan African countries that are actively engaged on leasing of land to foreign investors- Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda- have been selected as case studies. The entire analysis of these cases is centered on answering whether the practice leads to the social development of local populations as often claimed by proponents or if it rather leads to the detriment and impoverishment of host populations. It is observed throughout this research that to draw sheer conclusions in black and white is not an easy matter. However, the thesis argues that the number of social and environmental challenges that have been taken account of as a result of the ongoing acquisition of large tracts of land in poor countries necessitates a serious political responsibility and accountability which is currently lacking should the business amount to any win win benefits.
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