Saturday, 27 April 2013

African MPs warn govts on land deals


A section of African legislators during yesterday’s sitting in Kigali .
African legislators meeting in Kigali have called for a cautious approach before dishing out land to international investors.

The lawmakers argue that though agricultural foreign direct investments (FDIs) are key to Africa’s food security, it must be properly harnessed to ensure that they deliver on associated benefits. 

The two-day meeting which opened yesterday drew members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), the Pan African Parliament (PAP), and Rwanda’s lawmakers.

Under the them: Making Agricultural Investments work for Africa–a parliamentarian’s response to the land rush, lawmakers will identify priorities and make concrete suggestions for parliamentary initiatives at national, regional and African level.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, EALA Speaker Margaret Zziwa, said past trends of FDIs in African natural resources show that in many cases, they failed to deliver, leaving the continent grappling with risks and potentially severe negative consequences.

Zziwa said such consequences include loss of smaller holder farmers’ livelihoods; increased landlessness; 

marginalising the poor; unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and severe environmental degradation.

“The continent continues to be at the epi-centre of the FDI wave because of the perceived abundance of available land and water, favourable tax and fiscal incentives, a weak or nonexistent land tenure system and the failure of African governments to adequately protect land users,” Zziwa said. 

Zziwa added that many agricultural projects are not bringing benefits to the people, or the countries, in terms of tax revenues since investors benefit from tax holidays and do not pay land rates, economic growth, meaningful job creation, technology transfer, improved skills and capacity building. 

“The begging question thus, is, ‘what should our roles as Parliamentarians be in managing, if not all together, stopping the land rush by foreign investors?’” Zziwa asked, adding that it is essential that lawmakers commit to raising the concerns on land lease, promoting food security and in advocating for timely review of land laws.

Wave of investors

The joint Pap-EALA endeavour is part of a series of similar workshops launched by the PAP, each targeting specific regional economic blocs. 

Julianna Kantengwa, the fourth vice president of Pap, said since 2008, there has been “a wave of foreign investment in land and water, especially in Africa.” 

“Triggered by the recent food crises, threats of hunger, biofuel need, rich countries started buying up and leasing fertile land of the developing world,” Kantengwa said. 

A 2010 World Bank study reported land deals amounting to 45 million hectares in 2009 alone, she said, adding that in the past few years, a series of studies confirmed the scale and consequences of this new phenomenon of large-scale land acquisitions.

Attractive continent

Africa remains attractive because it has abundant land and water, Kantengwa said, but unfortunately, it also “remains attractive because of its weak or non-existent land tenure systems or because of the inability or failure of government to adequately protect land users.” 

“The land rush phenomenon and its implications deserve to be analysed and understood, if we are to know how best to respond as decision makers,” Kantengwa said. 

“This epic scramble poses a double-edged dilemma to policymakers; is foreign direct investment in agriculture a threat or an opportunity for prosperity?” 

Annie Kairaba, the director-general of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development, who also doubles as the coordinator for LandNet Rwanda Chapter, told The New Times that she is “pleased to see parliamentarians engaging like this.” 

“For the civil society in Rwanda, we are already engaged in this, and all these participants are signatories to the African land forum framework,” Kairaba said.

“What is important to us is the issue of marginalising people, of investors taking on more land and I am glad that even parliamentarians are realising the issues of transparency, issues of land grabbing. It is not yet a big problem in Rwanda, but it is a problem in the region, which can impact on us too.”


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