The general image we have of Africa is a continent that is underdeveloped. A continent that is much need of aid and assistance to reach even the basic needs of life such as water, food and adequate shelter. The international community has put forward schemes like the Millennium Development Goals and Poverty Reduction Strategies to support progress.
For me, the common phrase “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” comes to mind when thinking of how to improve lives in Africa. I acknowledge the importance of humanitarian aid needed to reach those most in need of food, shelter and sanity but giving aid to build a self-sustainable Africa is as vital to its long term progression. Africa is rich in its raw materials. Utilising the richness of its materials can be one of the ways to greatly improve Africa. Something that the international community has recognised and taken advantage of for decades. Ravenhill acknowledges that after the Second World War, the international trade between North-South has seen an increase in raw material exchange. One of these raw materials is the agricultural potential that the land gives. Africa has vast amounts of unused fertile land that can be used to provide employment, produce crops and then be distributed. Unfortunately, instead of treating Africa as equals to countries in the thriving west with respect and dignity, investors exploit it.
Land grabs in Africa have become all too common. Instead of putting in capital to contribute to local communities, it’s being used selfishly as a means of supporting countries across the oceans. In the case of the gulf countries, after the food crisis in 2008, they began to fear that they would be left foodless. The food crisis led to a rise in prices for basic foods such as rice and led to protectionist measures to block exportation. The Gulf States realised that they needed a way to secure food supply in order to avoid any instability that effects international trade. These countries are near impossible to grow food in due to their immense dessert land, which meant they would have to grow it somewhere else. The land they chose was in Ethiopia. It boasted vast fertile land, close proximity and cheap labour. Land is sold cheaply to foreign investors and the cost of Ethiopian labour has been flaunted as “lower than the African average” (Addissie, 2004). The makeup of these plantations are seen as alien to local farming with their modern high tech greenhouses containing perfect identical crops. Basic supply and demand strategies will express that if a product or good is in high demand it is sensible to supply it at a higher cost especially if the buyers are wealthy. Instead the benefiters are money making investors and the Saudi Arabians, Kuwaitis and other Gulf inhabitants that will eat from the produce. Even though the law says Ethiopian land is public property, the public have no control over where the produce goes, who acquires the land and how much they will be paid for their labour.
However, the Gulf States are not the only ones to exploit Africa for its land. The Chinese have been doing so since 1990 and surprisingly other underdeveloped countries are joining in on this injustice to the people of Africa. Deals have been made between Bangladesh and Uganda for the former to grow rice. It is due to urbanisation, desertification and the rise in population that Asian countries are seeking agricultural alternatives in Africa to ensure food security. The case of Bangladesh differs from other land-grabbing deals as they have agreed to export 80 per cent of crops back to Bangladesh and give 20 per cent of their crops to the local population.
African land is clearly in demand and has increased local jobs, food production and generate money through renting of land. However, the vast African population that is currently plagued by hunger does not benefit from the utilisation of these things. A simple thing like raising wages or like Bangladesh, giving a percentage of crops to host countries can be a path to greater change. I appreciate that countries who invest are forced to by the need to secure food but it can be done fairly to contribute to humanitarian aid. This discussion goes beyond the realms of land, investments and profits to something greater; fairness in trade to save lives.
Addissie, A. (2004). Addis Ababa business directory. Addis Ababa. p55.
Liberti, S. (2013). Land grabbing. Verso. London.
Ravenhill, J. (2011) ‘The Study of Global Political Economy’ Chapter 1 in Global Political Economy (OUP 3rd edition), p3.