Mali – Land Deal Stalls

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Huge land deal halted following regional political instability and security issues, leaving thousands of local families with uncertain futures

In 2008 exiled Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure signed a highly secretive lease with the then-president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, for a 100,000 hectare area of fertile agricultural land in the Office of Niger region, in the north of the country. The deal was granted to Malibya, a subsidiary of Libyan wealth fund the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, reported Reuters.

The agreement purported that the land would be provided rent free for 50 years and include water rights “without restriction” between June and December, on the condition that the Libyan  government constructed agreed agro-industrial infrastructure such as canals and roads, and cultivated the land across the region.

The Director of the Malibya project, Abdalilah Youssef, explained in a report by think-tank the Oakland Institute that the project will ensure food security for Libya in conjunction with, not at the expense of Mali; providing higher yields with the introduction of hybrid rice varieties, employment to local populations and facilitating resettlement for those displaced.

However  following Gaddafi’s demise in Libya and increasing regional security troubles, the project stalled.  Currently the tens of thousands of families cultivating the land are facing uncertain futures and according to Malian representatives whether the concession goes ahead or not is a decision for the Libyan government to take.

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Thomson Reuters Foundation (April 29 2015)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) claims that family farmers  produce roughly 80% of the world’s food. Within the Malibya concession an estimated 60,000 small farmers live and work, each farming less than a hectare. Many of the farmers do not have formal deeds to the land they farm and while in principle Malian law recognises customary tenure, many of the locals said they were not consulted ahead of the deal.

Many commentators have highlighted the secrecy surrounding the deal and its potential negative consequences for the food security of local populations and the Malian nation. The critical perception has been fuelled by the lack of Environment and Social Impact Assessments (EIA & SIA), with suspicions that none were ever commissioned.

Additionally, critics have claimed that considering the prevalence of droughts over the last three decades, it is surprising that the contract provided investors with access to water “without restrictions” between June and December. A local Malian farmer, cited by Reuters, said “how can they guarantee water for foreigners and not us Malian people…it’s already difficult for us to survive.”

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The Oakland Institute observe that the contract does not require produce grown to be bought and sold within the country  and the hybrid rice originally selected was “not suited to the domestic market due to quality and taste” according to Office of Niger officials.  SEXAGON, a local farmers union, claims that when the region is transformed in to export-oriented region local people will lose both their lands and livelihoods.

A study commissioned by Sweden’s Lund University claimed that around 32 million hectares of land globally had been traded in similar land deals up to 2012, part of a trend that is evident across much of the African continent and ‘developing world’ as large scale investors buy land as a strategic asset at the expense of small-scale landowners and food producers who have cultivated the land for many hundreds of years.

A representative from the Regional Platform of Farmers Organisations of Central Africa, Alangeh Romanus Che, said that investment should be directed at farmers rather than the acquisition of land; “all farmers depend on land as their principal capital, any denial of this access will impact negatively on farmers,” cited the Guardian.

A number of other examples:

In 2009 the Mozambican government signed a deal with Korean based conglomerate Daewoo Group for a 1.5 million hectare stretch for fifteen years. This deal fell through due to widespread public backlash, unsurprising as it was equivalent to almost half of the country’s arable land.

In 2013 the Guardian reported that the UK was the third largest investor in land in Africa at 1,193,433 hectares, behind the USA at 4,334,134 , United Arab Emirates (UAE) at 2,794,121 and Saudi Arabia at 1,307,912. In terms of amounts of land, the UK holds its majority in Sierra Leone at 692,606 ha; the largest being the Whitestone Charles Anderson investment with 525,000 ha.

On May 8th 2015 Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe met Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of talks over a proposed US$ 4 billion Darwendale Platinum Mining Deal. The project is a joint venture between the Zimbabwean military through Pen East Mining Company and Russian investors including VI Holdings, Rostec and Vnesheconombank. The special mining lease will grant the Russians exemption from paying corporate taxes and royalties for a five-year period.

Online public database on land deals, Land Matrix, provides useful visual data and analysis.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Mali: Emerging from Crisis, Bracing for Hunger
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.2, Pp.20307c-20308A

South Africa: Controversial Land Reform Plans
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20739c-20740c

Zimbabwe: Land Reform Blunder
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue. 2, Pp. 20740c-20742c

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