African Anti-land Grabbing Struggle

Interview with Henry Machina and Ibrahima Coulibaly

All across the world small farmers point to the negative consequences of increasingly widespread global phenomenon of ’land grabbing’, which leads to concentration of agricultural land and natural resources ownership in the hands of big investors and international corporations. This process, in addition to seizure of farmland, is very often accompanied by eviction or forced dislocation of entire rural communities, violation of human rights, increasing poverty and social stratification, and pollution of environment. Millions of hectares of arable land, mostly in Africa, Asia and South America, fall under control of large corporations – ’investors’ – usually through direct agreements with Governments or local authorities, and very often with the support of private banks and pension and other investment funds. International peasant movement La Via Campesina accuses both the World Bank and regional development banks of facilitating grabbing of land and natural resources by promoting laws and measures that are in the interest of corporations and by providing them with capital and financial guarantees, thus supporting a destructive economic model. Many Governments, however, justify ’land grabbing’ by claiming that the big agribusiness will bring about modernization of agricultural practices and ensure food security for all – which La Via Campesina denies by claiming that small farms – with majority of world food produced on them – are more productive than big agricultural corporations.

Henry Machina, Zambia Land Alliance

Now we talk with two of the African leaders of anti-land grabbing struggle, Ibrahima Coulibaly from Republic of Mali and Henry Machina from Zambia.

Henry Machina has been working for Zambia Land Alliance since 2000. Zambia Land Alliance was formed in 1997 as a response to the Zambian government’s decision to enact the Lands Act of 1995 which the organizational members then saw that it would disadvantage local communities by facilitating land acquisition by corporations and in the processing displacing local people from their land.

Ibrahima Coulibaly is a founder and president of CNOP (the national coordination of farmers’ organizations in Mali that is part of Via Campesina) and vice-president of ROPPA (the network of farmers’ organizations in West Africa). CNOP’s long term objective is “to build a significant national agriculturalist movement, bringing sustainable socio-economic advancement to family farms and agricultural producers through small farming agriculture well integrated into the context of national, sub-regional and international development”.

Ibrahima Coulibaly

Tell us more about land grabbing in Africa, and in Zambia and Mali. In what way is this process conducted and what are the consequences for common people?

HENRY MACHINA: I see land grabbing as a major problem in Africa and particularly in Zambia. We have multinational corporations searching for and acquiring large pieces of land for various investments. They acquire the land mainly for agricultural production as well as mining and tourism (establishing game ranches). Some of these investors buy the land while others get it literary for free, except for administrative fees.

Depending on the laws of the country, these investors, usually, in practice start with government investment promotion agencies and then approach local traditional leaders (chiefs) for the land. They then ‘negotiate’ for the land and sign agreements with the traditional leaders and then getting title from the government. Usually traditional leaders do not have adequate capacity and finances to meet the costs of having a meaningful negotiation. Sometimes the local communities are also not fully involved in the consultations for acquiring the land, especially women and youth. These are the ones who tend to be most negatively affected if the community members have to be displaced from their land as a result of the investment.

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: Agricultural lands are subject of great greed of huge investors both domestic and international. According to a study conducted by CNOP, altogether, from 1965 to 2012, 347.253,83 ha have been the subject of lease only in the area ’’office du Niger”.

Statistics show that the productivity of large investors is low compared to family farms. These large investors are therefore not the solution for achieving sustainable food security. Also, they are located on the most productive lands. In addition, these investments are often irreversible source of social and cultural imbalances. In this context, agriculture will have to be developed, and it can by other means, including investing in family farming, which today is on the margin of the rural poor and cannot afford more marginalization.

Grabbers have ousted producers from their lands (even villages) who must, for most of them, learn other skills: Accordingly, with migration to the cities, crime has increased, as the youth unemployment.

Why the main slogan of Zambia Land Alliance’s campaign is: ”Land is life”? What land means for people living in your country and in Africa, in general?

HENRY MACHINA: Land is important for most rural people in Africa and Zambia in particular. The majority of them live on customary land and depend on it for shelter, production of food including gathering wild mushrooms, medicines, and conducting their small businesses including selling merchandise, bee keeping, etc. They also raise funds from the land in order to take their children to school. As such Zambia Land Alliance uses the slogan ’Land is Life’ because these people depend on it for almost all their livelihoods. When the land is taken away from them then its like they lose their lives.

Please tell us more what you see as major obstacles for small farmers living in Mali?


1) Land security: after the failure of most of the land policies initiated by the State, peasant organizations (PO) are mobilized to make proposals for land reform. Under the leadership of the CNOP, the PO have initiated a process of consultation and conducted a very thorough reflection which led to the formulation of a coherent set of proposals. They are intended to secure the rights for land of peasant farming families through recognition of rural producers of real rights on the lands they work on. The PO then gave mandate to CNOP for submitting proposals to the Government and conduct advocacy for taking them into account in the context of the development of the new land policy and his law.

2) Short level of investment in food production by small-scale family farmers: suitable investment will improve food supply as well as the social and environmental sustainability; it will save livelihoods for most people.

3) Deficiency of rights of access to productive resources that are, in addition to land, water and agricultural biodiversity elements, and the rights to control these resources. The guarantee of these rights is essential to support family farming, small-scale food production and resilient food systems.

4) Sustainable sources of credit, social protection measures and the establishment of reserves of grains and food for livestock, as well as livestock resources are needed to strengthen the resilience of family farming and local food systems.

5) The establishment of a research system based on real needs of agricultural producers

6) The public sector has an essential role to play in adapting policies and programs governing national investment, in order to meet the needs of family farmers. With a decisive and effective commitment in the political processes and the practical implementation, family farmers and small scale food producers will become architects of their own future and that of their societies.

7) Unfair competition and dumping on the part of the northern countries that subsidize their agriculture (production and export)

8) The remuneration of the peasant effort at the right price.

What kind of land investments would you support?

HENRY MACHINA: We would support investments which would be   participatory and which would not displace local people. These must be investments which uphold the dignity of the local people and also helps to lift them from poverty to sustainable prosperity and not to plunge them into further poverty.

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: It is very important that agriculture attracts new investors, but investing should not continue to develop the transfer of land which from the viewpoint of rural development and fight against rural poverty is the worst of solutions.

Are colonialism and its practices still present in Africa?

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: Most developing countries has inherited from the colonial and postcolonial periods modes of consumption that don’t allow the development of their own food production (example: most of the African countries in South-Sahara do not produce a grain of wheat. But bread and other food products derived from wheat are progressing more in consumption habits than any other national production). This situation is absurd and creates food addiction which should be taken out before national agriculture can continue to feed peasants and urban people. Wheat was introduced during the colonial period and its consumption has been fueled by food aid programs.

Is it possible to build pan-African alliances of social movements and are there organization and social movements whose work you find progressive?

IBRAHIMA COULIBALY: The Pan African Farmers Organization (PAFO) is exiting. It has been created in October 2010 in Lilongwe, Malawi. PAFO aim is to make peasant voice to be heard; the voice of the small producer on all issues related to agriculture. Therefore, PAFO focus on topics ranging from investment in agriculture to climate change through agricultural research without obscuring economic policies, networking capacity building for farmers’ and producers’ organizations, advocacy, etc…

Milenko Srećković

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