Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Film Exposes the Devastating Impact of World Bank Backing for Land I...

Published on Apr 21, 2012
MONDAY 23 APRIL: Released on the eve of the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty in Washington DC, April 23-26, 2012, two new films reveal widespread violations of people's rights and environmental destruction from land grabbing in Africa. [1]

The films, released by La Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth International, are first-hand accounts of how privatisation of land, and corporate-friendly policies promoted by the World Bank lead to violent displacements, hunger and facilitate the global takeover of community land by private interests.

In Mali, Libyan multinational corporation MALIBYA has been awarded 100,000 hectares of prime agricultural land to grow export crops and livestock. The 25 Billion dollar project includes building one of the largest irrigation canals in Africa allowing Mali's precious water supply to be used by MALIBYA. The project is intended to develop agricultural industry through foreign direct investment -- a strategy aggressively promoted by the World Bank. In reality it has already violently displaced hundreds of families and demolished entire villages. Farmers are deprived of their livelihood and the capacity of the local people to feed themselves is hampered.

In Uganda, the World Bank has provided millions in funding and technical support to a large scale expansion of palm oil at the expense of local food crops and forest. Communities are losing access to land for farming, firewood, forest products and water supplies. Despite promises of employment, local people have lost their means of livelihood and are now struggling to make ends meet. Nearly 10,000 hectares are already planted in islands off Lake Victoria with 30,000 more planned. [2]

The World Bank conference brings together investors, governments, International Financial Institutions and civil society to discuss land governance. Yet previous policies of the World Bank such as turning communal land rights into private land titles, encouraging private finance to invest in land and providing technical and policy support for foreign land investments has set the stage for a global land grab on a massive scale. Voluntary 'Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment' (RAI), being promoted by the World Bank currently are toothless and unlikely to halt land grabbing. [3]

80 to 227 million hectares of land have already been leased or bought up in recent years, mainly in developing countries, to produce food or fuel for the international market. Thousands of people have been dispossessed and had their Human Rights violated. [4]

Civil society groups will voice their opposition to the RAI at the World Bank Conference in Washington DC. Meanwhile, A broad range of social movements are calling on Governments to take strong action to stop land grabbing by: [5]
• Implementing genuine agrarian and aquatic reform programmes
• Directing public investment towards peasant agriculture, family farming, artisanal fishing and indigenous food procurement systems that are based on ecological methods
• Putting in place policies to stop overconsumption that drives land grabbing -- such as agrofuels mandates and high meat diets in the EU and US
• Rejecting the RAI principles and instead abiding by their Human Rights obligations as outlined in the 'Voluntary Guidelines for land and natural resources tenure negotiated at the Committee on World Food Security.


Madjona Rumba: Thum to Tija

Opiyo Jarumba: Donna

Bolivia announces expulsion of USAID///Harvard's Exploitation in Chile

Bolivia announces expulsion of USAID

 Bolivian president Evo Morales gestures during an official meeting celebrating May Day in La Paz on May 1, 2013. Morales announced the expulsion of USAID from Bolivia, accusing the US development agency of meddling in the country's internal affairs.

Bolivian president Evo Morales gestures during an official meeting celebrating May Day in La Paz on May 1, 2013. Morales announced the expulsion of USAID from Bolivia, accusing the US development agency of meddling in the country's internal affairs. AFP PHOTO

Posted Thursday, May 2 2013 at 05:13

President Evo Morales on Wednesday announced the expulsion of USAID from Bolivia, accusing the US development agency of meddling in the country's internal affairs in a new souring of often-tense relations.
The United States quickly dismissed the allegations as baseless, and said Bolivia's action showed it did not want good ties with Washington.
In a fiery speech to workers on May Day, the leftist president of South America's poorest country said the US Agency for International Development was in Bolivia "for political purposes, not social ones."
"No more USAID, which manipulates and uses our leaders," Morales said in the address in La Paz's Plaza de Armas.
He did not explain why he felt the US agency was interfering in Bolivian affairs. USAID has operated in the Andean nation since 1964.
Morales, a populist and Bolivia's first indigenous president, has been in power since 2006 and has followed a sometimes nationalist agenda hostile to Western governments and companies.

In 2008 he expelled the US ambassador and agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing them of meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs. Bolivia is a major producer of coca leaves, the raw material of cocaine.
The United States responded by expelling the Bolivian ambassador and ending trade privileges that it had granted the country.
After a long period of frosty ties, the two countries in 2011 signed a framework agreement to normalize relations and exchange ambassadors again, but tensions remained.
US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday that all USAID had done in Bolivia was try to improve the standard of living there, adding that Washington deeply regrets Bolivia's decision.
"We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government," he said.
After five years of efforts to normalize relations after the 2008 crisis, he said, "this action is a further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision."
"What is most regrettable is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government's decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, agriculture, health, alternative development, and the environment," Ventrell added.
The new US Secretary of State John Kerry had encouraged improved relations with Bolivia.

But bilateral ties suffered another blow recently when Morales said the United States was conspiring against the new government that assumed power in Venezuela after the death of his ally Hugo Chavez.
And in early April, the United States announced it was ending the financial and logistical support it had given to Bolivia's struggle against drug traffickers, although it did donate several aircraft.
In his speech Wednesday Morales said Bolivia was offended by Kerry's recent comments to the effect that Latin America was the United States' backyard.
The United States, he said, "probably thinks that here it can still manipulate politically and economically. That is a thing of the past."

Morales instructed Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca to inform the US embassy of the expulsion of USAID, "that tool which still has a mentality of domination."
USAID has worked to help Bolivia improve its health care system and also runs a sustainable development and environmental program.
Specific goals include boosting farm productivity and food security, expanding access to social services and enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized companies, according to the USAID web site.
During Wednesday's speech, Morales also announced several laws to benefit workers and recalled the seventh anniversary of his nationalization of the oil and gas sector, which affected nearly a dozen foreign oil companies.
Morales, a socialist, also marked May Day with an announcement that he would nationalize Spanish-owned power company TDE

Harvard’s exploitation in Chile

Published: 29 Apr 2013

The Crimson | 29.04.2013

Harvard’s exploitation in Chile


Agrícola Brinzal is a Chilean logging company currently facing lawsuits for felling 189 acres of native forest and then reforesting with foreign tree species. The corporation’s practices, which include growing water-intensive eucalyptus trees, have been accused of harming both the environment and nearby communities. According to a recent university tax filing from 2011, Harvard owns 99.99 percent of Agrícola Brinzal, which generated more than half a million dollars in income for our endowment. As students who benefit from the profits of this company’s business model, we are disturbed that Harvard has stood by as Agrícola Brinzal has been accused of degrading the environment and neglecting local laws.
Like many universities, Harvard funds much of its staff and faculty salaries, student financial aid, operating costs, and research budget with its endowment earnings. Unlike many universities, however, Harvard’s endowment directly owns more than 100 companies, many of them natural resource and timber companies in the developing world. And unlike most universities, Harvard directly owns at least one company that has been implicated in illegal land exploitation practices.
Last month, two investigative reporters in Chile released a report detailing the exploitative logging practices of Chilean companies owned by Harvard. The report, published by the Center of Investigative Journalism of Chile (and later translated into English), quotes a government official explaining that the scale of Agrícola Brinzal’s logging is unprecedented on the island of Chiloé. Harvard’s company has either bought up recently clear-cut land or engaged in the felling of native trees itself, and reforested that land with eucalyptus trees. Recognizing the destructive environmental effects of this deforestation, CONAF, the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Forestry Corporation, has brought multiple lawsuits against Agrícola Brinzal. The lawsuits allege that the company’s logging practices are both illegal and environmentally devastating, wreaking irreversible havoc on Chile’s prized natural forests.
Furthermore, locals have maintained that the company’s actions have been detrimental to local communities. Carlos Muñoz Grandón, president of an organization of residents living near land owned by Agrícola Brinzal, was quoted in the report stating that the company’s reforestation negatively affects local farmers: “It’s a great impact—it’s a huge one—from the fumigations to the growth of eucalyptus, because we will have huge problems with water distribution...That’s going to affect animal and milk production, which is the economic source for people here.”
In recent years, Harvard Management Company has invested heavily in the timber asset class. The University first entered the sector in 1997 based on a suggestion by Jane Mendillo, now President and CEO of HMC, and began investing in Chile in 2004. According to Harvard’s 2011 tax filing, Harvard now owns at least 11 companies in Chile. Harvard holds these companies through subsidiaries—for example, Agrícola Brinzal is owned by Phemus Corporation, one of HMC’s wholly owned investment companies that enjoysnon-profit tax status.
Despite the fact that Agrícola Brinzal is 5,000 miles away from our Cambridge campus, Harvard is responsible for its practices and the practices of all its companies. Harvard often brags about the Harvard Forest, the site of the Harvard Forest Program on Conservation Innovation, where experts investigate the destructive effects that habitat degradation and development can have on the environment and local communities. Why should a company owned by Harvard allegedly neglect the environmental regulations and practices that our University’s own researchers deem so important?
Harvard’s aggressive approaches to timber and agribusiness in Latin America are unique among universities. A recent report identified only one university endowment with direct holdings in forestry and agriculture investments in Latin America: Harvard. Our peer institutions have so far entered the markets through indirect ownership schemes and externally managed funds. We are concerned that Harvard’s problematic practices may set new standards for endowment investing.
Jane Mendillo wrote in a September 2012 message that HMC employees “fully vet potential investments and investment partners for long-term viability” and perform “legal and operational due diligence” for every investment decision. Harvard’s ownership of Agrícola Brinzal casts serious doubts on the wisdom of HMC’s current policies. HMC ought to review, revise, and publish its due diligence policies and processes before the end of the semester so we can be sure such abuses will not happen again.
As a nonprofit education and research institution, Harvard University has the responsibility to ensure that it does not negatively impact the world. If Harvard is committed to funding research, student life, and financial aid from the profits of natural resource companies, it should, at the very least, ensure that its approach to natural resource investment does not actively violate the law as Agrícola Brinzal allegedly has.

Sandra Y. L. Korn ‘14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a joint history of science and studies of women, gender, and sexuality in Eliot House. Krishna Dasaratha ‘13 is a mathematics concentrator in Quincy House. They are part of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.

Leaked ProSAVANA Master Plan confirms worst fears

Leaked ProSAVANA Master Plan confirms worst fears

Published: 30 Apr 2013

Posted in: Brazil | Mozambique

By Justiça Ambiental et al | 29 april 2013

Joint Statement: Leaked copy of the Master Plan for the ProSAVANA programme in Northern Mozambique confirms the worst

Civil society groups have finally seen a leaked copy of the most recent version of the Master Plan for the ProSAVANA programme, which is dated March 2013. The copy makes clear the project's intentions and confirms that the governments of Japan, Brazil and Mozambique are secretly paving the way for a massive land grab in Northern Mozambique. Several organisations from Mozambique and their international partners are now making this plan publicly available, along with some of their initial reflections. (Download the Master Plan here: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

A member of the National Peasant's Union (UNAC) walking along the Nacala Corridor rail line, in Mecubúri District, Nampula Province, June 2012 (Photo: GRAIN)

ProSAVANA is a programme between Japan, Brazil and Mozambique to support agricultural development in Northern Mozambique. According to the copy of the Master Plan leaked to civil society, the programme will cover an area of over 10 million hectares in 19 districts within 3 provinces of Northern Mozambique-- Nampula, Niassa, and Zambézia. Over 4 million people live and farm in this area, which has been dubbed the Nacala Corridor.

The entire process of developing the ProSAVANA programme and its Master Plan has been characterised by a complete lack of transparency, public consultation and public participation. While agribusiness corporations have been part of government delegations to investigate business opportunities in the Nacala Corridor, the 4 million farmers living in the affected area have received no information about the intentions shown in the Master Plan. Three governments have refused to make this version or earlier versions of the Master Plan available to the public.

The Master Plan was produced by a team of foreign consultants with close linkages to multinational agribusiness corporations, some of which are already acquiring land in the ProSAVANA area.1 There were no meaningful consultations with local communities and the plan does not consider their needs, their histories and knowledge, or their aspirations for the future. Nor is there any appreciation of their local farming and food systems.

ProSAVANA is presented as a development/ aid programme but the leaked version of the Master Plan makes it clear that it is simply a business plan for the corporate takeover of agriculture in Mozambique.

What does this Master Plan mean for small farmers?

The proponents of the ProSAVANA programme have said repeatedly that this is a programme to support small farmers. But the Master Plan only considers how small farmers can support agribusiness. This boils down to two main directives:

1. Push farmers out of traditional shifting cultivation and land management practices into intensive cultivation practices based on commercial seeds, chemical inputs and private land titles.

Although zero analysis was made of the effectiveness of traditional farming practices in the area, the Master Plan says the "transition from shifting cultivation to settled farming is an urgent need" and says this is "the key strategy proposed in the Master Plan". It even calls for actions "combating the practice of shifting agriculture."

The plan acknowledges that farmers are likely to resist giving up their traditional forms of agriculture, so it proposes several means to encourage them to do so, such as the formation of "leading farmers" who can demonstrate the advantages of intensive agriculture, "a pump-priming subsidy system for chemical fertilizers", and, most importantly, private land titles (DUATs) for those farmers that make the switch.

It is clear to us that the real objective behind these efforts to push farmers into intensive cultivation is to privatise the land and make it more available to outside investors. Relegating farmers to a fixed parcel is a way to mark off lands more clearly for investors and to make it possible for provincial governments to establish the land banks for companies that the plan calls for. It also allows investors to bypass negotiations with communities to access lands. The Land Registration of the Small Scale and Medium Scale Farmers component of the Master Plan clearly states that its objective is to "facilitate the identification of areas for the promotion of agriculture by large farmers, private companies and medium scale farmers." It is also described as a means to "create an environment of cooperation and integration between the small scale farm and new investors."

2. Push farmers into contract farming arrangements with corporate farms and processors.

The Master Plan divides the Nacala Corridor into zones, and defines which crops should be grown in these zones, where and how they should be grown, and by whom they should be grown (small farmers, medium farmers or corporations). Within these zones, the plan lays out several projects for the production of commodities, some of them based exclusively on large corporate farms, others based on a mix of large or medium farms and contract production arrangements with small farmers.

Contract farming will not improve the lives of small farmers in the area. It will instead make them dependent on a single corporation for everything from their seeds to the sale of their crops. One of the proposed contract farming projects in the plan envisions a return on investment of 30% per year for the company while farmers in the project will be forced to devote 5 out of the 5.5 ha they will be allocated to the production of cassava under contract production with the investor.

A paradise for corporations

The plan lays out several business opportunities that companies can invest in and get huge projected returns of between 20%-30% per year. Companies that invest will be able to tap a $2 billion Nacala Fund that is being financed by governments and investors in Japan and Brazil. Although details of this fund are still missing from the leaked version of the Master Plan, other sources indicate that the fund will be registered in the fiscal paradise of Luxembourg and called the Africa Opportunity Fund 1: Nacala.2

Map indicating land available for agriculture in the Nacala Corridor (green and yellow areas). Data compiled by the Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM).

Some of the projects within the plan will provide large areas of land to investors. The Integrated Grain Cluster, which is planned for Majune District, Niassa Province, will be managed by one vertically integrated company that will operate nine 5,000 ha farms, within a 60,000 ha zone, to produce a rotation of maize, soybeans and sunflower, mainly for export. According to the plan, "the project has a high profitability and the internal rate of return was calculated at 20.3% and the payback is 9 years." The Master Plan calls for projects such as this one to be expanded and reproduced throughout the Corridor.

Corporations will also benefit from several Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that are proposed in the plan. In these zones, companies will be free from paying taxes and customs duties and will be able to benefit from offshore financial arrangements. These SEZs will be located at the main sites that the project is planning for processing and trading facilities, which will cut deeply into any revenues that could accrue to the government through the planned development of agro-export industries.

Since the planning for ProSAVANA began in 2009, many foreign investors and their local partners have already acquired large parcels of land in the programme area, leading to numerous conflicts over land with local communities. The intention of the Master Plan is to bring even more investors to the area, which will make land conflicts even worse.

The main solution that the Master Plan proposes to these growing conflicts are the "ProSAVANA Guidelines on RAI" (Responsible Agricultural Investment). These guidelines are essentially a checklist based on the seven RAI principles that were developed by the World Bank and have been widely denounced by peasant organisations and civil society groups. The “ProSAVANA Guideline on RAI” will be included as an annex in the “Data Book for Private Investors” that will be released by August 2013 as part of efforts to promote agribusiness investment in the Nacala Corridor.

The guidelines are weak and only voluntary and the plan does not call for any new laws or regulations that could really defend communities against land grabs. The plan only says that "private investors interested in agricultural development in the Nacala Corridor will be requested to comply with these principles, in addition to their internal codes of conduct and voluntary self-regulations."

What's the end result of this plan?

The Master Plan, in its current form, would destroy peasant agriculture, by wiping out farmer seed systems, local knowledge, local food cultures and traditional systems of land management. It will displace peasants from their lands or force them on to fixed parcels of land where they will be obliged to produce under contract production for corporations and to go into debt to pay for the seeds, fertilisers and pesticides required. The peasants that do get private land titles will be left at extreme risk of quickly losing their lands to corporations and big farmers.

It is telling that only one of the seven clusters in the Master Plan is aimed at small scale farmers and family food production. And this cluster only proposes the same old failed green revolution model of development. The Master Plan puts no real thought and energy into the needs and capacities of peasants in the Nacala Corridor.

Corporations are the big beneficiaries of this Master Plan. They will get control over land and production and they will control the trade of the foods produced, which will be exported along the roads, rail lines and Nacala port that other foreign corporations will be paid to construct with public funds from Mozambique and Japan. Foreign seed, pesticide and fertiliser companies will also make a killing from this massive expansion of industrial agriculture into Africa.

Some Mozambicans will profit from this. For example, Portugal's richest family has set up a joint venture to acquire lands and produce soybeans in Northern Mozambique with a national company controlled by the friends and family of Mozambique's President and in partnership with one of Brazil's largest corporate farmers. But these profits will be made at the expense of regular Mozambicans.

Seeing the Master Plan only confirms our determination to stop the ProSAVANA programme and to support Mozambican peasants and people in their struggle for food sovereignty.

Signed by:

Justiça Ambiental, JA!/ FoE Mozambique (Mozambique)
Forum Mulher (Mozambique)
Livaningo (Mozambique)
LPM - Landless Peoples Mouvement (Member of Via Campesina - South Africa)
Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (Member os Via Campesina - South Africa)
AFRA - Association for Rural Advancement (South Africa)
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) (*The world's largest grassroots environmental federation with 74 national member groups and more than two million individual members.)
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) / Friends of the Earth (FoE) Uganda
FoE Swaziland
Amigos da Terra Brasil / FoE Brazil
Movimiento Madre Tierra, Honduras
NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark
GroundWork (South Africa)
Amigos de la Tierra España / Friends of the Earth Spain
Environmental Rights Action / FoE Nigeria
Sahabat Alam Malaysia/ FoE Malaysia
SOBREVIVENCIA, Friends of the Earth Paraguay
CESTA, FoE El Salvador
Earth Harmony Innovators (South Africa)
Ukuvuna (South Africa)
FoE Africa
Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (Zambia)

(As of 29 April 2013)

Contact: Anabela Lemos and Vanessa Cabanelas
JA!Justiça Ambiental/FOEMozambique
anabela.ja.mz@gmail.com and vanessacabanelas@gamil.com
+258 21 496668

1The Master Plan was drawn up by a group of consultants from the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV). These consultants are also directors with Vigna Brasil, also known as Vigna Projetos, which provides agribusiness consultancy services to corporations such as Galp Energia, Vale, Syngenta, Petrobras, and ADM. Galp, owned by the Amorim family of Portugal, is already invested in a large-scale soybean farming operation in the ProSAVANA project area through a joint venture called AgroMoz with Intelec, a holding company partly controlled by the family of the Mozambican President. Vigna Brasil has the same contact address as the company 4I.Green, which is described as the technical manager for the Nacala Fund-- the main financing vehicle for the big agribusiness projects in the Nacala Corridor.

Kenya: Dominion Farms chief fears for his life

Kenya: Dominion Farms chief fears for his life

Published: 30 Aug 2011

Nairobi Star | 30 August 2011

Villagers living in the Yala Swamp area, Kenya protesting against Dominion Farms (Photo: Kick Dominion Farms out of Yala)

Justus Ochieng'

Dominion group of companies boss Calvin Burgess has recorded statement at the Siaya Police Station over threats on his life.

Burgess recorded the statement after he was chased by angry villagers who were protesting eviction from their farms which the company insists belongs to them. The investor was allegedly chased by panga wielding villagers at Yala swamp.

Siaya deputy police boss Lanet Sili confirmed yesterday that they are carrying out investigations. "He has indeed recorded statement and we are doing what we can to ensure his safety," said Sili. Burgess has also alerted the American Embassy in Nairobi over the threats. The investor said he has received calls from several foreign embassies wanting to know if he is safe.

Last week, over 1,000 villagers said to have invaded part of the Dominion Rice Farms in Siaya County were evicted by anti riot police. The incident came a week after Nigerian former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the multibillion rice farms.

Following the complaint, Boro West councillor Leonard Oriaro who engaged the police in a heated argument during the protests was yesterday arrested on claims of incitement. When the police went to arrest the civic leader herefused to open the door. But after the officers threatened to break in, Oriaro let them in and was taken to Siaya police station.

The residents had been given three months to harvest their crops and stop cultivating the land but they continued to plant after the deadline.

Siaya District Commissioner Boaz Cherutich maintained that those farming on land belonging to Dominion must leave accusing the villagers of undermining the farms President Calvin Burgess. He said some of the villagers were squatting on the investor's farm adding that a time had come for them to vacate.

The DC lamented that despite the fact that they reached an agreement with the villagers four Months ago to leave the parcel of lands, they had failed to honour the agreement. "It is unfortunate that we had reached an agreement with the area local leaders and the Siaya county council to give the villagers three months grace period which has now extended to the fourth month but the villagers are still unwilling to leave the land," he said.

Dominion acting director Chris Abir said the company was allocated a total of 17,000 acres for rice farming and they have only managed to reclaim about 3,500 acres and their efforts to expand the field are being thwarted by the invaders.

He maintained that the villagers had been given enough time and warned that the government will not keep it lying down as a few people continue frustrating the investor. He cautioned the public against causing havoc at the multibillion investment adding that this may scare away the investor.

The DC wondered why the farmers had ignored the 150 acres allocated to residents of both sides of Siaya and Bondo to carry out farming activities and instead creating unnecessary tension by invading land given to Dominion.

Led by their councilor Leonard Oriaro, the villagers mobilized themselves and confronted the contingent of regular and administration police officers who were deployed to keep guard as Dominion moved in to reclaim their land using tractors to destroy their crops. The villagers had cultivated crops including maize, sugarcane, bananas, beans and kales covering more than 900 acres on the farm.

Source: Nairobi Star

Land Rush in Africa: Show Case of Calvin Burgess of Dominion Siaya Kenya


In Depth

Land Rush in Africa

November 25, 2009

Farmland in developing countries has become an unlikely object of investor fascination. Morgan Stanley (MS) and other Wall Street firms are raising hundreds of millions of dollars for agriculture funds aimed at Africa and Latin America. Agribusinesses in the U.S. are leasing vast tracts of African land from which they expect to export crops and glean healthy returns. Arab oil countries, meanwhile, are vying for fertile acreage for fear their homelands are running out of water.

The executives leading this hunt for farmland say they are boosting poor economies. Dominion Farms, based in Guthrie, Okla., leases 17,000 acres in Kenya near the village where President Barack Obama's grandmother lives. Dominion President Calvin Burgess boasts that his company provides employment for hundreds of local residents. "This area was a malaria-infested swamp before we got here," he says. Once Dominion is fully in gear, it plans to sell rice to African governments and export farm-raised fish to Europe.

But in Kenya, foreign land investors are beginning to stir resentment. Subsistence farmers and cattle herders complain that they are being displaced without compensation. In the Siaya District of southwest Kenya, families say Dominion hasn't offered as many jobs as it claims in the six years since it arrived. Villagers accuse it of polluting water and sickening farm animals—allegations the company denies.

Tensions are rising. Charles Onyango Apiyo, 39, raises cattle in Siaya. A year ago, he says, 10 of his cows wandered onto Dominion property. The entire herd of 150 was confiscated by company employees and taken to a police station. The cattle were held for almost two weeks, during which time 20 died, Apiyo says. More perished from dehydration on the trek back to his land. In an interview on the side of a dusty road, he says he has received nothing for his losses.

Dominion's Burgess expresses little sympathy. Stray cattle, he says, can spread disease. "Can you imagine a rice farmer in Mississippi allowing stray cattle onto his field?"

Several factors explain the rush to invest in farmland in Africa. In 2007 high oil prices drove up the cost of crop production and shipping. The resulting spike in food prices was exacerbated by severe droughts in Eastern Europe and Australia. Sensing opportunity, investors and corporate farmers went shopping in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. Governments in those countries, which annually accept billions of dollars in food aid, leased land to outsiders in exchange for promises of cash, roads, and schools. Local residents, however, often weren't consulted when land they considered theirs was turned over to newcomers. Centuries-old themes of exploitation inevitably surfaced.

AN UNUSUAL CONFERENCEIn the first half of 2009 private equity funds lined up more than $2 billion to invest in farmland, according to Agcapita, a Calgary-based fund. BlackRock (BLK) has raised $500 million to invest in agriculture. Philippe Heilberg, a former commodities trader for American International Group (AIG), has leased 1 million acres in Sudan. Heilberg's New York-based Jarch Capital announced in April that it had acquired the land for an undisclosed amount through a Sudanese firm. Jarch plans to grow rice, wheat, and other crops for export. The owner of the land is Gabriel Matip, a son of General Paulino Matip, the leader of the armed wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which fought a long war against the government in Khartoum that ended in 2005. In a statement issued to the Sudan Tribune in April, Jarch said it planned to lease another million acres by the end of 2009. The completion of that deal hasn't been announced.

In June scores of institutional investors gathered in New York for Global AgInvesting 2009, a first-of-its-kind conference. Among the attendees were employees of the endowment funds of Harvard and New York Universities and the pension plan for San Diego County, Calif. The potential investors were told that in Africa, a little Western technology can fertilize crops and generate profits. "It's a mad scramble for African farmland right now," says Carl Atkin, head of research for Bidwells Agribusiness, a large British company that recruited investors at the conference.

Japan, China, and other Asian countries have operated farms in Africa for more than 20 years. A million Chinese do agricultural work on the continent, according to the U.N. Now a throng of additional outsiders is arriving.

Saudi Arabia held a lavish ceremony in March in Riyadh to celebrate the first harvest from a $100 million rice and wheat project in Ethiopia. In December 2008, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki flew to Qatar to meet with officials there about a potential deal under which the tiny Middle Eastern emirate would build a port in the coastal city of Lamu in exchange for a long-term lease on almost 100,000 acres to grow rice.

Dominion Farms' Burgess began negotiations in 2002 with the governments of Kenya's Siaya and Bondo districts near giant Lake Victoria. The 58-year-old executive says his interest in Africa was sparked by a member of his church in Guthrie who makes charitable trips to Kenya. Burgess decided to bring American-style agribusiness to Africa. "God has plans for people's lives," he says, "and I thought that maybe this was part of His plan for me."

PLEADING FOR THEIR PEOPLEDominion isn't an obvious candidate for farming in Kenya. Part of Dominion Group, a privately held conglomerate involved in real estate development and manufacturing, Dominion once ran prisons for Colorado and other states. Corrections Corp. of America (CXW) has acquired that business.

When he arrived in Siaya, Burgess rode by Jeep over pock-marked roads to examine land in an area near where the Yala River empties into Lake Victoria. Local officials told him that past irrigation plans had failed, he says. Burgess recounts how he was greeted by two members of the Luo tribe dressed in tattered Western-style suits. The old men pleaded for help for their people, he says. "I made the decision that night."

Soon thereafter, Dominion secured a 25-year lease on 17,000 acres, with an option to renew for an additional 20 years. Burgess says that to obtain the lease he made a series of agreements in confidential documents signed by members of local councils and tribal chiefs. These agreements were approved by the Kenyan Lands Ministry in Nairobi, says Dorothy N. Angote, the ministry's permanent secretary.

Dominion is obligated to pay a total of $140,000 in rent annually. On top of that, Burgess says he paid the Siaya County Council $100,000 two years ago. A county official conceded that the $100,000 vanished, according to local newspaper reports. Separately, Burgess says he paid $120,000 to the local Lake Basin Development Authority in 2003. That money also disappeared, he says. Neither the authority nor the county council responded to several requests for comment.

Dominion also agreed to clear 300 acres of its land for residents to use communally. In addition, it said it would rehabilitate at least one school and one health facility in each of the Siaya and Bondo districts.

More than six years later, these arrangements haven't all gone according to plan. Before the company's arrival, tens of thousands of farming and herding families used parts of the Yala wetlands now occupied by Dominion. Many of these residents have lost access to land they considered theirs. As a legal matter, land rights were held by the various government bodies that leased tracts to Dominion, according to the Lands Ministry. Scores of homes where Dominion now operates were relocated to make way for a dam and reservoir the company built. Burgess says about 50 families were compensated as a result. Chris Owalla, a local community organizer, estimates that 300 families were displaced.

Burgess says owners were paid amounts roughly double the worth of their properties. Residents say the compensation—typically 4,600 Kenyan shillings, or about $60 per home—was inadequate. Erasto Odindo, who grows beans, maize, and tomatoes on eight acres in Bondo, says he rejected Dominion's offer because the money was too little.

Dominion has renovated one of the two promised health centers, installing electricity, X-ray machines, and dental equipment. But residents say they have trouble reaching the small facility because the road to it runs through Dominion's farm and company security officers sometimes deny them access. No schools have been renovated, although Dominion has donated building materials for those projects.

By all accounts, the 300 acres Dominion has set aside for communal farming hasn't been used for that purpose. The reasons are in dispute. Burgess blames local officials for keeping people off the land. The officials want to supervise the farming and collect the profits, he alleges. Local farmers, in contrast, say that when they tried to plant crops, they were blocked by the company or saw their maize and rice uprooted by Dominion bulldozers, according to Owalla, the community organizer. Burgess denies these accusations. It is difficult for an outsider to get to the bottom of the matter.

Burgess says that overall, Dominion has improved life for Kenyans. "I disagree when people say, 'Oh, you have to preserve the local culture,'" he says. "If you preserve it, people will starve, and you won't have a culture to preserve." He plays down the idea that land formerly used for subsistence agriculture has now been monopolized by Dominion. Farms that surround his company's property are little more than "unproductive gardens," he says. Most of the area his company now cultivates simply wasn't being used before, he says. "No one was there."

Burgess says Dominion employs 700 local people in various capacities. But villagers dispute this. In 2003 the company hired some 200 people to pull weeds and chase away birds, according to Owalla. As the Dominion farm became more mechanized, jobs dwindled, the activist and local residents say.

During a reporter's visit to the area over three days, some 40 women were observed working at any one time in the Dominion rice paddies. Three men operated tractor equipment along the road. Several of the women said in interviews that they earn less than 200 shillings a day, the equivalent of $3. They declined to give their names for fear of losing their jobs.

FLOOD DAMAGEEven some local farmers who have kept their land complain about Dominion's presence. Odindo, the farmer in Bondo, reigns as the informal mayor of his neighborhood. While chickens and goats roam the mud-walled front yard of his neatly painted white house, he explains that local farmers fear Dominion eventually will force many of them to seek work in Nairobi—a fate they all dread. "How can you suddenly ask them to change their whole life?"

During severe rains in 2007, Odindo says most of his crops were destroyed by flooding he blames on a nearby dam that Dominion built. He holds up worn photos showing his farm almost totally submerged. "We have never seen that kind of flooding before," he says. More than 1,000 homes were damaged, and some were swept completely away, he adds.

Jackson Oware, who lives nearby, has placed small markers where five of his mud huts stood before the flooding destroyed them. "We are not sure when to replant because it could all be washed away again," Oware says.

Burgess says the ferocity of the storm caused the damage. "We were in no way responsible for this flooding," he adds. "These people just want someone to blame."

Residents report other fears as well. Since Dominion's arrival, they say, drinking water from the Yala River has a metallic taste they attribute to the company's use of fertilizer. Odindo says Dominion's spraying of pesticides has sickened some animals. "Every home has a dead cow or dead goat," he says.

A soil and water analysis in August, paid for by the antipoverty group ActionAid International, concluded that people shouldn't drink from the Yala River. Among the concerns mentioned in the analysis are the presence of dieldrin, a chemical ingredient in some pesticides that has been linked to breast cancer and Parkinson's disease. The Environmental Protection Agency banned dieldrin in the U.S. in 1987.

Burgess says Dominion uses no pesticides in Kenya. Crop-dusting planes that circle the company's property spray only nitrogen-based fertilizers and herbicides—neither of which is harmful, he adds.

Grahame Vetch, Dominion's manager in Kenya from 2004 to 2007, contradicts his former employer on the pesticide question. Vetch, who according to Burgess was fired for poor management, now runs his own land development company in the area. He says Dominion did use pesticides to battle crop-eating pests, such as the quelea bird.

Environmental oversight is weak in Kenya. Selalah Okoth, the district officer in Bondo for Kenya's National Environment Management Authority, says she hasn't assessed water or soil there since she took the job in 2004. Okoth cites a lack of resources, saying she fears there could be harmful pollution caused by Dominion.

Burgess responds with dismay. "When you try to help these people," he says, "all they do is complain." He says his company is trying to foster farming that will attract jobs and investment. He speaks often of his spiritual motivation. A large white Christian cross stands behind Dominion's main facility. Burgess says he erected it after community leaders told him his farm included sites associated with witchcraft.

The American executive has also preached in local churches to promote good relations. But that hasn't gone over well with everyone. "Burgess came into my church and claimed that we didn't know Christ well enough, and we should do it right to prosper," says Odindo. "Well, we are poorer now."

Business Exchange: Read, save, and add content on BW's new Web 2.0 topic networkGrain Spotting in AfricaAs the race for African farmland picks up, Grain is keeping score. The Rome-based nongovernmental organization aggregates local and international news reports and press releases to assemble a running tally of land deals. The site aims to raise awareness about the vast tracts of land being leased by foreigners in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the developing world.To check out Grain, go to http://bx.businessweek.com/industrial-agriculture/reference/

This article was done in collaboration with the International Reporting Project (internationalreportingproject.org), a nonprofit that provides grants to U.S. journalists.

A US Citizen Mr. Calvin Burgess Ruined Homeland

A US Citizen Mr. Calvin Burgess Ruined Homeland

The Nation, Commentary, editorial exchange with The Nation, Laura Flanders Posted: Feb 03, 2007

Obama-mania is out of control in the United States, you should get a hit of it in Kenya. When US Senator Barack Obama announced he was considering a presidential bid, it was front-page news in the East African nation where his father was born. Taxi drivers love to ask Americans what they'd think of having their first Kenyan President. One Nairobi-based safari company even operates tours to the Senator's ancestral village, complete with "evening tea and a photograph with [Obama's] grandmother."

Some Kenyans wish the attention to the place where Obama claims his roots would translate into a new dose of concern about the people who currently live there. Dorothy Owiti hails from the same part of the country as Obama's father: Siaya province, on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. While the Senator's ancestral home is becoming a tourist attraction,. Owiti's lies submerged beneath floodwaters, thanks to the operations of a US company. This January, Owiti and several of her neighbors attended the World Social Forum in Nairobi with a message for the Senator.

"I would like to tell Barack Obama that somewhere down here in his homeland, we are really suffering," she told RadioNation. "If he has us at heart, let him do something. Tell the president of Dominion Farms to stop destroying our lives in Africa."

Dominion Farms, an affiliate of Dominion Group, based in Oklahoma, moved into Siaya in 2003 through an arrangement with the local and state authorities. After several years of negotiations, Dominion CEO Calvin Burgess leased public land from the government on a pledge to develop a high-tech fish and rice farming operation that he promised would bring jobs, reduce hunger and make Siaya and neighboring Bondo provinces the "breadbasket" of Kenya. (In the United States, Dominion builds for-profit prisons and federal buildings.)

Until Dominion came along, the people of this part of Kenya made their living drawing water from the local Yala River. They raised goats and cows and farmed small plots of land. Widows and children harvested papyrus and sisal from the nearby swamp from which they crafted rough mats and baskets. A major habitat for endangered fish and birds, the Yala Swamp is recognized by environmentalists as one of the richest and most delicate ecosystems in East Africa. The half-million or so local residents weren't rich but they were self-sufficient, says Owiti. Now they're forced to live on the generosity of churches or on the corporation's handouts.

"Development should not bring harm to the local community," said Owiti at the World Social Forum. But that, she says, is just what has happened. In the last four years, Dominion Farms has built a dam on the Yala River, drained much of the swamp, subjected the fields to aerial spraying and drowned not only public land but, residents claim, private property without legal authority.

Dominion offered residents compensation to leave their homes (generally 45,000 Kenyan shillings, approximately $64). Many, like Salome, a local grandmother, refused, but their land was submerged anyway. "I grew cabbages, I made mats, I planted maize and millet. Now all my fields are flooded," said Salome.

For those that remain, the company's dam blocks access to the river, the one available source of fresh water. "Now they want us to use standing water," explained Paul Obeira, another Yala Swamp resident.

But with the standing water comes infection. Malaria and typhoid rates are rising. Now aerial spraying is killing livestock. "I have lost 110 goats and our women are suffering from health problems because of the spraying," added Obeira. Dominion Farms has applied for a permit to spray the pesticide DDT, which has been banned in this part of the world because of its negative health consequences.
Begun as a counterpoint to the elite World Economic Forum, which is held each year in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum casts itself as a meeting place for those on the receiving end of the kind of trade and development policy promoted at Davos. Peter Kimani, a correspondent for Kenya's Daily Nation, sees in the Yala Swamp story a classic example of problems the Social Forum tries to spotlight. "Here is a world multinational impoverishing local people in the name of development," said Kimani last week.

Genetically Engineered (GE) trees to Fight Climate Change ?

GE trees to fight climate change?

Dr. Rachel Smolker | 09 April 2013 | corporations, climate crisis, GMOs | United States
Mapuche woman protests outside of the Belgian Mission in Manhattan. Photo: LangelleMapuche woman protests outside of the Belgian Mission in Manhattan. Photo: Langelle

The realities of climate change have become altogether painfully obvious. Many are working to address this by reducing consumption, and protecting landscapes and biodiversity.

ArborGen and other tree biotechnology companies, however, have a different vision. They want to develop so-called “bio-energy” from massive plantations of genetically engineered (GE) trees across South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. They are banking on the fact that most renewable energy subsidies are directed towards wood-based bioenergy– funding refineries to convert wood into liquid biofuels, and to construct new facilities — and convert aging coal-fired plants — to incinerate massive quantities of wood for electricity.

In the U.S. and Europe, bioenergy already is the second largest form of renewable energy (excluding hydro) and the IEA estimates that bioenergy will be the most rapidly growing renewable, through 2035. [1] In Europe, coal-fired plants are undergoing conversion to burn trees. These plants depend almost entirely on imports — resulting in a rush to build facilities to transform southern forests into wood pellets for export. A growing coalition is mobilizing to stop this. We are arguing against mandates and subsidies for ethanol, warning of food vs. fuel competition, and pointing out that burning trees for electricity is unwise since protecting forests is one of our best lines of defense against climate change. Further, burning wood releases more CO2 per unit of energy than even coal. Finally, it would take much of the planet’s land, water, soil and fertilizers to grow enough biomass to meet just a fraction of the current demand for energy. The consequences would be disastrous.
The Obama administration, however, along with the U.S. Energy and Agriculture departments, biotechnology companies, big oil, agribusiness and others— are steaming forward on bioenergy, pumping money into research and development. In 2010, ArborGen won USDA permission to field-test a quarter million of their GE eucalyptus trees across seven southern states, a decision that was challenged in the courts. The Obama administration has vowed to streamline permitting for GMOs, further impacting their already grossly inadequate assessment of risks for these new technologies. The “Stop GE Trees Campaign”, consisting of 245 groups who support a global ban on the release of GE trees, is rallying forces and organizing a series of protests and other events around the upcoming Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference in Asheville, NC this May. For without significant public outcry, ArborGen could soon be growing plantations of GE eucalyptus trees across the Southern U.S.
What will this mean? Eucalyptus is native to Australia. In Florida and California, it is a documented invasive species. Eucalyptus is designed to access water in dry places; and effectively suck soils and waterways dry. The US Forest Service estimates they would double water use compared with native forests. Eucalypts contain oils that not only grant them their unique odor, but also make them highly flammable; a major factor in the horrific wildfires that have plagued Australia. Does it make sense to plant trees which have been dubbed both “living firecrackers” and “flammable kudzu” in our already drought-stricken southern states, just as we are facing severe heating and drying impacts of climate change? Plans for GE poplar and pine trees raise an additional frightening prospect — contamination of native trees. Pollen from GE poplars and pines will blow in the wind and find its way to native forests. Contamination would be both inevitable and irreversible.
Does it make sense to introduce genetically engineered trees, to be grown en masse; displacing native forests, cultivated with toxic fertilizers and pesticides to supply wood to facilities that can never provide more than a tiny fraction of our overall energy demand? It’s time for a reality check; quick before it’s too late.
Source: http://climate-connections.org

Drought and dams in biblical garden of Eden

Drought and dams in biblical garden of Eden

Julia Harte | 16 April 2013 | Iraq, Turkey

The Ilısu Dam, an 11 billion-cubic-meter hydroelectric project on the Tigris River in Turkey will reduce the river’s downstream flow from 20 billion cubic meters to just 9, destroying about 670,000 hectares of arable land in Iraq. A National Geographic story of a disaster in the making.
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Few places illustrate the vitality of water more starkly than Southern Iraq.
The region that gave rise to human civilization as we know it, the heartland of ancient Mesopotamia, the original referent of the Garden of Eden – Iraq’s lower third has been many things, but today it is the site of a wrenching ecological and human struggle.
Driving north from Basra along the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway that forms at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, desert engulfs you. The only patches of color on the landscape are posters for Iraq’s April 20 provincial elections.

According to passages from the Bible, the dehydration of the Euphrates River would portend the end of the world. Photo by Julia Harte.According to passages from the Bible, the dehydration of the Euphrates River would portend the end of the world. Photo by Julia Harte.

As the road branches and you turn northwest, following the route of the Euphrates away from the Tigris, the river takes some time to appear.
The Euphrates no longer extends all the way to the Shatt al-Arab, according to Jassim Al-Asadi, director of the Southern Iraq branch of the environmental NGO Nature Iraq. It has been diverted back into the Awhar, or Mesopotamian Marshes: a vast wetlands nestled into the crook of the Tigris and Euphrates confluence.
For millennia, Marsh Arabs lived in these marshes in reed huts, hunting and keeping water buffalo for sustenance. But in the 1990s, the marshes were drained by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, displacing hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs. After the fall of Hussein, the marshes began to come back, aided by the efforts of Nature Iraq.
But in 2007, a massive drought hit the area, and the levels of the Tigris and Euphrates have been falling ever since, the water loss exacerbated by more than 40 new upstream dams that have come online in the past three decades. In the central marshland district of Chibayish, where Al-Asadi was born, he says the population dropped from 60,000 to 6,000 in just three decades.
The marshes aren’t the only place in Southern Iraq threatened by the drought and by upstream dams currently under construction on the Tigris River, of which Turkey’s Ilısu Dam is the biggest.
Farmers throughout the region have suffered huge losses in the recent drought years, partly due to the lack of modern irrigation technology in Iraq. Some have migrated to cities in search of new work; others have resorted to suicide.
When water rights are discussed in this context, passions tend to rise. Diplomatic language fails to convey the tremendous impact that a single dam project can have on millions of lives.
So when I had the opportunity to separately interview three key players in the debate over Turkey’s half-finished Ilısu Dam, just weeks before flying to Basrah to begin my expedition along the Tigris River, I wasn’t surprised that each invoked a proverb to express his opinion on the project.
Waja’alnā mina l-māi kulla shayin hayyin. ”By means of water, we give life to every living thing.” That Koranic verse sums up the importance of the Tigris River in Iraq, according to Bakhtiar Amin, Human Rights Minister of Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
Amin anticipates dramatic declines in the quantity and quality of the Tigris River in Iraq after the Ilısu Dam. It will reduce the Tigris River’s downstream flow from 20 billion cubic meters (BCM) to just 9 BCM, he says, destroying about 670,000 hectares of arable land in Iraq. When the river level gets that low, Amin warns, saline water from the Persian Gulf will also infiltrate the Tigris. Recent drought years have already resulted in salty tap water throughout the lower third of Iraq.
Although the most controversial project of its kind in Turkey, the Ilısu Dam is just one of 22 hydroelectric dams constructed in Turkey under the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). Eighteen have already been built in the region since the Turkish government approved the project in 1982. Some estimates project that GAP will have reduced the overall flow of the Tigris River in Iraq by 80 percent when complete.
Komşusu açken tok yatan bizden değildir. “We cannot sleep satisfied when a neighbor is hungry.” That’s the Turkish proverb that Ahmet Saatçi, President of the Turkish Water Institute, uses to respond to the anxieties of downstream stakeholders.
“If our neighbor is thirsty, of course we will help him. Historically we have shown this,” he says. The dam must be built, according to Saatçi, to shore up Turkey’s energy supply and lessen its reliance on imported energy, mainly from Russia and Iran. He has heard the concerns of Iraqis, but says they “lack data” and are mainly “emotional talk”.
Saatçi argues that Turkey is pioneering wastewater treatment plants, and will be happy to export the technology to Iraq to ameliorate any salinization that Turkey’s dams cause in the Tigris River. Iraqis themselves must learn to use water more efficiently, he adds, with modern irrigation techniques. Furthermore, he says, Turkey has always maintained the flow of the Tigris into Iraq at 500 cubic metres per second — Amin disagrees, saying the current rate is more like 200 cubic meters per second — and previous Turkish dams have never hurt Turkey’s downstream neighbors.

Not gone yet: what remains of the Euphrates River is helping replenish the central marshland -- and the culture of the Marsh Arabs. Photo by Julia Harte. Not gone yet: what remains of the Euphrates River is helping replenish the central marshland -- and the culture of the Marsh Arabs. Photo by Julia Harte.

Some would disagree; Turkish police had to foil attempts by Syrians to blow up the largest GAP project, the 27-billion-cubic-meter Ataturk Dam, which reduced the Euphrates to a trickle for 30 days after it was opened in 1990.

A little lamb in the market of the camels. That’s what Iraq is, compared to upstream neighbors such as Turkey, says Talib Murad Elam, Advisor for Agriculture and Food Security in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq.
“At the moment, we’re importing 96% of what we eat and drink from Iran and Turkey. So us having an agricultural industry is not to the benefit of our neighbors,” says Elam.
In Kurdistan, which is already experiencing large-scale urban migration and the transformation of rural villages from producer units to consumer units, the loss of more than half the Tigris River will “spell disaster,” according to Elam. “It’s a lifeline for 33 million people,” he says.
Over the course of this trip, I’ll boat through the Mesopotamian Marshes and visit modern Marsh Arab homes, spend a day at the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, interview farmers in Southern Iraq about the difficulties they face, stay with nomads in Iraqi Kurdistan to observe the role of the Tigris in their seasonal migration routes, travel overland into Turkey, document ongoing archeoloogical excavations and already unearthed wonders at the soon-to-be submerged ancient town of Hasankeyf, interview the Turks and Turkish Kurds that have been or will be displaced by the Ilısu Dam, and visit other archeological sites in its floodpath.
My next post from Southern Iraq will be all about the wildlife, human inhabitants, and archeology of the Mesopotamian Marshes. Check back soon!

Is Africa about to Lose the Right to Her Seed?

Is Africa about to Lose the Right to Her Seed?

Glenn Ashton | 23 April 2013 | food sovereignty, seeds & biodiversity, laws & policies

Seed and the control of seed lies at the heart of agriculture. In Africa around 80% of seed comes from local and community saved seed resources. This seed is adapted to local conditions. It forms an integral part of community food security and agricultural integrity. This entire traditional system is now under threat.
A broad front of commercial interests, aided and abetted by the World Bank, the American Seed Association and government agencies, along with front groups, academics and so-called philanthropists, are endeavouring to alienate this crucial resource. The international seed industry, owned by massive multinational pesticide companies involved in promoting hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seed, is both a primary beneficiary and protagonist of this thrust. While the motivation is ostensibly to assist the development of African agriculture, the impacts will be widespread and dire.

Simply put, the proposal is to create a harmonised system of control around the presently fragmented African seed trade regime and create a system based on what is projected as modern best practice. This includes uniform adherence to the strict 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV), across the board, for Africa. Because of the stringency of UPOV, the real impact of this will be the loss of control of the seed supply by indigenous small farmers. The consequences for food production and social cohesion across the continent will be dire.

Once locally adapted seed varieties are lost, dependence on outside seed suppliers will rapidly become unaffordable. The implications will reverberate far beyond food production. Indebted farmers are at direct risk of losing land tenure. On the one hand this causes accelerating urbanisation and social dislocation. On the other, good agricultural land is appropriated by large conglomerates. There is already a massive thrust by nations and corporations to gain land tenure in fertile tropical African agricultural zones.

The impetus behind this change in the seed regime has been building for some time. Consolidation within the powerful South African seed industry – the biggest in Africa - was recently finalised. The South African competition appeal court permitted the sale of the last remaining large South African seed company, Pannar, to the US multinational Pioneer, a subsidiary of DuPont. Pannar has well established African networks.

This merger firmly shifts control of South Africa’s extremely valuable seed industry into the hands of the world’s two largest, US owned seed companies, now ideally placed to use South Africa as a bridgehead into Africa. More ominously, it effectively removes the ready possibility of further evolution of competition in the industry. This has serious implications for indigenous seed trading and seed saving networks.

The rationale of the seed industry is apparently simple: if there is not a sufficiently robust mechanism to protect their intellectual property, their primary income stream is at risk. On the other hand development organisations like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) swear that new seed being developed for Africa will be freely shared for the benefit of smallholder farmers. There is clearly a serious disjuncture between what is said and what is happening.

These massive seed corporations bring the lessons learned in South America to Africa. There, the growth of the soya industry, initially in Argentina and more recently in Brazil, occurred with no attempt to control the spread of GM seed by the owners of the intellectual property.

In South America this was herbicide-resistant GM soya, patented by Monsanto. In fact its spread was covertly encouraged. This non-hybrid seed was therefore saved, re-used and traded amongst growers in the region, first in Argentina, later into Brazil and Paraguay – so called ‘Maradonna’ seed.

Yet once the soy industry became established, Monsanto reacted aggressively and claimed royalties on all the soy grown throughout the region, claiming right to its patented intellectual property. It used various means, such as appropriating percentage of sales on delivery or demanding that overseas purchasers pay a direct royalty, even though its patents were not recognised in Argentina.

Similar attempts in Brazil were overturned in the courts with Monsanto instructed to return billions of dollars to farmers. It is presently attempting to circumvent the ruling by entering individual agreements with farmers. Yet the South American standoff between powerful farmers unions and the seed giants continues.

The seed industry does not wish a similar situation to develop in Africa. Hence the insistence that African seed laws are upgraded to the most restrictive, first world legislation, supported by the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the International Intellectual Property Office, WIPO. What is occurring is a de facto case of neo-liberal enclosure of the foundation of agricultural productivity in Africa.

African farmers have long recognised this threat. Back in 1997 the Organisation of African Unity initiated a proposal to develop a “Model Legislation on the Protection of the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers and Breeders and for the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources,” known as the African model law. This was endorsed by the African Union in 2000.

While the African model law recognises plant breeders’ rights, these rights are limited and patents on seeds, such as are allowed on GM seeds under UPOV and WIPO regimes, are excluded. This approach is recognised and permitted under WTO exceptions under the sui generis rule. This principle has been adopted into Indian seed laws, where similar concerns exist.

A substantial number of broad indigenous farmers networks throughout Africa have condemned the draft protocol to accept the ratification of UPOV. Most SADC nations have already agreed in principle to accept the provisions of International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources on Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which enables far more flexibility and participation in seed transactions than the restrictive proposals of UPOV, yet this agreement too is threatened.

This matter appears to be coming to a head. Several quasi-‘indigenous’ seed organisations such as the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), funded by USAID, have, without due consultation with representative farmers groups in these areas, pushed for the ratification of UPOV 1991. On the other hand properly mandated farmers’ networks demand that national consultations be held to discuss and analyse these proposals.

What is at play here is a direct conflict between peasant farmers networks and the neo-colonial attempt to subvert African agriculture by restrictive, first world regulation. The Southern African model is being repeated in East and West Africa, through similar comprador networks.

What will happen should UPOV be broadly adopted? As soon as indigenous seed becomes contaminated by patent protected seed varieties, all rights to share and trade that seed will be lost, forever. The irony of this is profound, as the very germplasm, which Monsanto and Pioneer rely on is the result of thousands of years of peasant breeding that remains categorically unrecognised. What is good for the goose is clearly not good for the gander. The end result will only see one winner, which will certainly not be indigenous African farmers.

If there was ever a time for the vocal proponents for African unity and values to step forward, it is now. Should they fail, African leadership will be harshly judged for enabling the next phase of neo-colonialism to unfold unopposed.
Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org.

A potent mix of politics, economics, old ethnic scores and new alliances has turned this remote corner of eastern Kenya into a cauldron of violence that has cast a shadow over the upcoming March 4 elections.

A potent mix of politics, economics, old ethnic scores and new alliances has turned this remote corner of eastern Kenya into a cauldron of violence that has cast a shadow over the upcoming March 4 elections.


GARSEN, Kenya (text)

From the banks of the Tana River, Osman Dube stares unseeing at Kenya’s longest river as it makes its slow, liquid caramel course to the Indian Ocean, sustaining life – and fuelling violent death - along the way.
Days after the December clashes between rival ethnic groups in his native Kipao village killed 45 people, Dube says he still can’t understand what led to the carnage.

Osman Dube, a primary school headmaster, was rudely woken up on December 21, 2012, when attackers stormed his native Kipao village. (Photo: Denis Bouclon)

A quiet, pensive primary school headmaster - respectfully called mwalimu, or teacher in his native Kiswahili - Dube has had many months to figure why the Pokomo community and his own Orma people have been ensnared in the brutal ethnic conflict.
Since July 2012, more than 140 people – including women, children and police officers on duty – have been killed in waves of attacks and counterattacks in more than a dozen swampy villages in the Tana Delta, a remote corner of eastern Kenya.
The December 21 attack on the Orma village of Kipao - the biggest and bloodiest to date - came after months of relative calm had instilled a false sense of security among Tana Delta residents.
“We had been living in peace for months,” explained Dube. “It happened so abruptly. I was sleeping - it was around 4am – when we heard a commotion. We thought it was a security patrol, we didn’t think it was an attack, it was so unexpected.”
By the time Dube realized what was going on - and managed to move his wife and eight children to a hiding spot in the family compound - the “unexpected” attack was proceeding along expected lines.
Crack of gunfire
As screams, shouts and the crack of gunfire rocked the sleepy village, armed youths tore through the hamlet, hacking victims with machetes, spearing some to death and firing indiscriminately until the Orma villagers managed to put up a defence. The fighting lasted hours, according to terrified witnesses, and the dead included Orma villagers and some of their Pokomo attackers.

Imam Abdullahi Haji Gudo fears his peace-building efforts are all in vain. (Photo: Denis Bouclon)

“Why? Why now? Why Kipao?” asked Imam Abdullahi Haji Gudo, regional chairman of The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, a nationwide faith-based initiative working on peace-building efforts. “We don’t know the answers. But it has been understood clearly that this is political.”
Barely three weeks after the Kipao attack, the deadly pattern was repeated on Wednesday, when attackers launched a pre-dawn raid on the Orma village of Nduru, before villagers fought back. Eight people were killed, according to police officials, including two Pokomo attackers. It was promptly followed by a retaliatory attack the next day, which killed at least 10 people.
As Kenya prepares to go to the polls, politics, economics, old ethnic scores, and new alliances fed by murky agendas are combining to turn this remote corner of Kenya into a battlefield that many fear could presage the kind of violence that may characterise the March 4 general elections.
Five years ago, following the December 2007 elections, Kenya’s image as a beacon of African stability was shattered when at least 1,200 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced in post-electoral ethnic violence.
The 2013 elections are for the presidency and parliament, as well as for regional gubernatorial posts and local councils, under a new constitution designed to devolve power from the centre to Kenya’s marginalised regions.
But while the devolutionary reforms of the 2010 constitution have been widely welcomed, it has also unleashed historical grievances over land and resources.
‘A recipe for trouble’
The roots of the Pokomo-Orma conflict date back centuries to one of history’s oldest clashes of civilization between nomads and sedentary peoples. Pokomo farmers and traditionally nomadic Orma herdsmen have long fought over access to pasture.
In the old days, local elders typically negotiated compromises, including a system of malkas – or corridors of access to water for cattle during the dry season.
But as in many parts of the developing world, market-driven modernisation with its system of private land ownership has seen the collapse of the old negotiated land-sharing agreements.
In the Tana Delta - a rich ecosystem of dry land, marches, fresh and salt water – the powder keg of an ethnic-based clash of livelihoods has been fuelled, in recent years, by the Kenyan administration’s controversial large scale land deals for rice, sugarcane and biofuels projects with national and multinational companies.
“The Tana Delta is a very delicate ecosystem where the population has been increasing over the past few years, putting tremendous ecological pressure on the inhabitants,” said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, Horn of Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group. “There have also been cases of multinational organisations being given land that was used for grazing and farming. All these factors coming together in an election season are a recipe for trouble.”

‘If they lose power, they lose land’
But while the scramble for natural resources - which is hardly unique to Kenya - provides a context for the troubles gripping the Tana Delta, the real problem is a political one, according to many Kenyans – including the country’s top police chief, Inspector-General David Kimaiyo.

A rich ecosystem of dry land, marches, fresh and salt water, the Tana Delta has seen some controversial land deals in recent years. (Photo: Denis Bouclon)

“We have to establish that the conflict is in no way related to land issues,” said Kimaiyo in an interview with the Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, last month. “It is not a fight for any other resources, it’s solely political.”
In the Tana Delta, county elections have seen new political alignments contest local seats.
“It looks like power is shifting to certain clans and the other clan feels that if it loses power, then it’s the end for them,” said Hassan Abdille, regional coordinator for the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR). “The Pokomos feel they are going to lose power and if they lose power, they lose land. The politicians in turn are using this to instigate trouble since they want to gain the political advantage.”
The Pokomos currently have the political edge, holding all three Delta constituency seats.
But a new dynamic has been emerging in the multi-ethnic Delta in recent months, with pastoralists, such as the Orma, Waradei, Malakote and other groups banding together to form a bloc against the minority Pokomo.
As Abdille noted, “The Pokomos think the Waradei and other groups are going to join the Ormas and then they will lose power.”
That fear is not unfounded. According to The Africa Report, the pastoralist alliance tested their unity in the 2011 county council elections, when pastoralist-backed representatives won all the seats.
In September 2012, following a particularly bloody summer of attacks and counter-attacks, local lawmaker Dhadho Godhana was accused of stoking the tension. He was removed from office and charged with inciting violence. He denies the charges.
A commission to investigate the violence is expected to present its findings later this month.
Kenya has a track record of politicians inciting violence around election season. Four prominent Kenyans - including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and lawmaker William Ruto – have been charged with inciting the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence by the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta is contesting the March 4 presidential race with Ruto as his running mate.

Can village elders keep the peace?
Given the high propensity for electoral violence, analysts and ordinary Kenyans have been dismayed by the security forces’ inability to maintain order in volatile areas ahead of the 2013 elections.
The lack of security was highlighted on September 10, 2012, when attackers raided the Orma village of Kilelengwani, killing 38 people, including nine police officials.

The violence is undermining the authority of community elders such as Imam Abdullahi Haji Gudo (left) and Omar Shobes (right). (Photo: Denis Bouclon)

The deaths of the police officials shocked the nation and led to a heightened security presence across the Delta.
Days after the deadly December 21, 2012, attack in Kipao, the neighbouring village of Oda, a Pokomoko-dominated hamlet situated across the Tana River – was bristling with Kenyan security personnel, watched by sullen, glowering villagers.
But in the fields around the village, young men with machetes swaggered under the blazing midday sun, visibly spoiling for a fight.
Omar Shobes, an Orma elder from a neighbouring village sighed. “I’m trying to calm down the youth, but they want to retaliate,” he confessed.
For community and religious elders such as Shobes, Gudo and Dube, keeping the peace in the lead-up to the March 4 elections is going to be an uphill test of their placatory skills.
But Dube himself is not overly pessimistic about the future. “People will keep living together,” said the village headmaster. “But the trusting each other is going to take some time. These days, there’s hatred and mistrust being built, but it will calm down. We have always lived together and we will continue to do so.”