Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, about the downside of land deals between countries. Wealthy countries are increasingly snapping up farmland in poorer nations, but more needs to be done to insure the lands deals are done in a responsible way. Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: Huge land deals around foreigners that anger the local population are increasingly an issue in a number of developing countries. Ruth, Mines & Dick has looked closely at the trend she is a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Mines & Dicks said the World Bank recently tried to tally the international land deals underway in 81 countries. And the sum was massive.
RUTH MEINZEN-DICK: It came to about 115 million acres to put that in perspective that is twice the land area of the whole United Kingdom or more then three quarters of the total area under grains in United States.
WERMAN: That is a lot of land there.
MEINZEN-DICK: It is a very big amount of land. Now the problem is a lot of these deals do not actually go through in the end. And the other problem is that a lot of them once the land is acquired by the investors they do not actually do anything with it. SO it is really hard to nail down the exact figures but we know it is very extensive.
WERMAN: And of those 82 countries in the study was there a concentration of countries in a particular part of the world?
MEINZEN-DICK: It is the largest concentration is in Subzero Africa by far. A big reason for that is much of the land in Sunsaro, Africa is under customary ten year and it is under state control.
WERMAN: And how much does the corrupt African leader factor play into this?
MEINZEN-DICK: I don’t know that its always-corrupt leaders there is a real need for investment in agriculture in Africa. The question is is this the best kind of investment.
WERMAN: The deals though are often not made on equal terms. So I mean it is hard to mention how these leaders justify I mean the point was made. Forking over there own farmers land to a foreign power.
MEINZEN-DICK: It is very true that there is not an even playing field here and that is a major matter of concern. In many cases, the land that is being given over is seen as unused or it is unowned. That means it is under customary ten year. Which means that the state officially holds the rights to it and can claim to reallocate those to foreign investors? Now the problem is that very often farmers, pastoral lists or others are using this land. The other big problem that it is it is not just about land it is about water. In many of these cases if you are irrigating big areas of rice for example that maybe depriving other areas of water supplies.
WERMAN: When these deals do go through do farmers always suffer or there examples this has been down in a responsible ethical way?
MEINZEN-DICK: They do not always suffer, they do not need to. There are ways that farmers can benefit one of the big things that is being talked about is contract farming. SO instead of evicting the farmers and then coming in with large-scale commercial farming that it is possible to go in provide the farmers with improved inputs and equipment under contracts and then agree to buy the produce back from them.
WERMAN: What will it take for that to happen?
MEINZEN-DICK: I think there has to be pressure on investors on one side and there UN Food &Agricultural Organization and other collaborate putting forward principles for responsible Agro Investment. So that’s one side but it think its also important for the investors to realize that its not necessarily in there own best interests to go in and evict the farmers. For one thing there loosing the farmers knowledge of the land. Especially in Africa, the soils are not you know were not talking Mid Western plains here these soils are not necessarily suited for large-scale commercial agriculture. And the farmers that have been there for years know sort of the microterpagraphthy [SP]. SO you can tap into there knowledge it is possible to make it a win, win situation.
WERMAN: Ruth, Mines & Dick a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute great for having you on the program.
MEINZEN-DICK: Thank you very much it is a pleasure to be here.
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