Report says agribusinesses operating in Africa could face costly disputes as local communities seek to benefit from investments

Author: Adela Suliman, Reuters, Published on: 4 March 2019

"Bitter aftertaste? Food companies could face costly disputes over land in Africa"

Food companies doing business in Africa risk becoming bogged down in decades-long legal disputes over land that could cost tens of millions of dollars, according to a report...From sugar to coffee and palm oil, agribusiness firms could find that the land they are using is already claimed or occupied by local people, researchers said. Such disputes, already common, can tie up businesses for years and halt trade - and could cause up to $101 million in losses over the next 25 years, said the report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a thinktank, and TMP Systems, a UK-based consultancy. “All over you get communities who do want to benefit from investment,” said Joseph Feyertag, ODI research fellow. “But communities need to know exactly what they’re letting themselves into,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation....

Almost half of all land disputes between sugar companies and local communities in Africa lasted more than 10 years, the report found. Such protracted disputes also caused significant harm and economic stress to local people. “It’s hard to see how to make these projects win-win when both the investors and the communities want the same land for very different purposes,” said Renee Vellve, co-founder of GRAIN, an international charity that supports social movements in their bid for food self-sufficiency. “For the companies, the land is a resource, a tool to extract wealth. For the communities, the land is their lives and source of livelihoods - it’s part of their identity.”

For Vellve, clashes are common and are often resolved at the expense of communities, with villagers unable to access fields and forests and to make a living, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Recent years have seen several high-profile land dispute cases in Africa.In 2009, a deal by South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics to lease more than 1 million hectares in Madagascar for crops led to the island nation’s ruler being ousted, and fueled anger against foreign companies using swathes of African farmland. Last year, Liberia passed a landmark law that would help communities fight foreign land grabs by giving them ownership of ancestral territory. Prior to that, rights groups had said, the state had signed away more than 40 percent of national territory in concessions for logging, mining and agriculture.


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