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Africa Main Target for ‘Land Grabs’ by Western Investors – Report

Africa is the main target for “land grabs” by foreign investors, according to a new report on large-scale land acquisitions around the world released Monday.

“Africa is the place for cheap land deals and most investors are from Western countries like the U.S. and U.K.,” said Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition (ILC).

Globally, some 45 million hectares of land has been or is about to be signed over to foreign investors in Africa, Southern Asia and Latin America. That’s equivalent to 60 percent of Europe’s farmland.

About half of this land is for food production and half for biofuels, according to data compiled by the ILC, a global alliance of nearly 100 civil society and intergovernmental organizations, including the World Bank and United Nations Environment Program.

“Some investors aren’t actually farming and are only interested in land speculation,” said Taylor.

Rural communities are being displaced from their agricultural, grazing, forests and traditional lands by international investors, Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation, the UK partner of the African Biodiversity Network, told IPS.

Most of the food-producing lands in Africa are held in common by local communities. In Asia and South America, hundreds of millions of small landholders, pastoralists and indigenous people do not hold formal land titles. And when it suits governments, they ignore this customary land holding and sell or lease the land to private companies.

Private capital from pension funds and investment firms are chasing food-producing land since they see it as the next big profitable commodity.

“Investors are looking for annual returns of 20 and 25 percent and many are getting it,” said Taylor.

Experts at the University of Georgia recently completed an assessment of 34 land acquisitions in Africa and concluded that in most cases local people lost “their land and livelihoods, often in the absence of any real benefits”.

The U.S., Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and the U.K. are the homes of top foreign investors not only in Africa but in other countries, according to the ILC’s new Land Matrix Global Observatory. The Land Matrix is a website that provides the locations and details of nearly 1,000 land transactions all over the world.

The largest transnational land deals are in South Sudan and Papua New Guinea. The Land Matrix lists the individual land deals including the companies involved, the size of the acquisition and intended use. In Papua New Guinea, many of the land deals appear to be for palm oil production…

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