Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Impact of the World Food Demand in Africa - Addressing the Land Property Issue

Various factors have contributed to the negative impact of the World Food Demand in Africa. It is important, however, that I first outline the key issues affecting food demand.
Factors such as population growth, increased demand in more resource intensive food and the impact of petroleum prices have conspired in creating the food crises
While food production increased by 1 to 2 per cent in 2008 it was outpaced by a 4 per cent population growth and the trend has not changed. Also the gradual change in diet by so-called newly prosperous populations is regarded by some as the most important factor underpinning the rise in global food crisis.
We also have the situation where the rise in the price of oil has heightened the costs of fertilizers in some instances doubling the price within the six months before April 2008.
Financial speculation including indiscriminate lending and real estate speculation led to a crises two years ago, eroding investment in food commodities. This is coupled with the impact of trade liberalisation, which has ensured that many developing countries have gone from being food independent to being net food importing economies since the 1980s. Africa and other countries are also over time losing out through the use of food crops for producing bio fuels with maize being a good example as well as producing huge amounts of food crops for export rather than local consumption. This is further motivated by the subsidies on bio fuel by the United States and the EU.
The problem as you can see is not necessarily an African creation but more of the effect of globalisation. The global food crisis has renewed calls for the removal of distorting agricultural subsidies in developed countries. Support to farmers in OECD countries totals 280 billion USD annually, which compares to official development assistance of just 80 billion USD in 2004, and farm support distorts food prices leading to higher global food prices, according to OECD estimates.
There is also the issue of a distorted global rice market - Japan is forced to import more than 767,000 tonnes of rice annually from the United States, Thailand, and other countries due to WTO rules. This is despite the fact that Japan produces over 100 per cent of domestic rice consumption needs with 11 million tonnes produced in 2005 while 8.7 million tonnes were consumed in 2003-2004 period. Japan was not allowed to re-export this rice to other countries without approval, but it seems as if this problem is now being addressed.
Can you believe that this rice is generally left to rot and then used for animal feed?
You may call it climate change, but significant crop shortfalls have emanated from natural disasters. Several distinct weather and climate-related incidents have caused major disruptions in crop production in the past few years. This has also led to soil and productivity losses as large areas of croplands are lost year after year, due mainly to soil erosion, water depletion and urbanisation.
Issues of large scale land acquisition
Large-scale acquisition of land has become an issue affecting the availability of land for the development of food crops for local consumption. According to an estimate from the International Food Policy Research Institute IFPRI, between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries have been subject to transactions or negotiations involving foreign investors since 2006.
Developing countries in general, and Sub-Saharan Africa specifically, are targeted because of the perception that there is plenty of land available, because its climate is favourable to the production of crops, because the local labour is inexpensive and because the land is still relatively cheap.
In 2003, the FAO estimated that an additional 120 million ha - an area twice the size of France or one-third that of India - will be needed to support the traditional growth in food production by 2030. Since about 95% of the cropland in Asia has already been utilized, it is in Latin America and in Africa where most of the demand for increased arable land will concentrate.
The development of large-scale land leases or acquisitions can be explained by
  • The rush towards the production of agro fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, a development encouraged by fiscal incentives and subsidies in developed countries;
  • The growth of population and urbanization, combined with the exhaustion of natural resources, in certain countries, who therefore see large-scale land acquisitions as a means to achieve long-term food security;
  • Increased concerns of certain countries about the availability of freshwater, which in a number of regions is becoming a scarce commodity;
  • Increased demand for certain raw commodities from tropical countries, particularly fibre and other wood products;
  • Expected subsidies for carbon storage through plantation.
It is clear the food crisis is not just an issue of land and property rights. Many issues have to be looked at, especially the waste in developed countries, subsidisations, and trade restrictions.
The need for more land is obvious, and it seems the world is focusing on Africa and Latin America and every effort has to be made to stem the frightening trend where Africa's land is targeted by the rest of the world in its new found quest to acquire land for production of crops that do not end up feeding our hungry people but serve as raw material for new technologies such a bio fuels.
There is no doubt that land tenure and property rights in Africa are complicated. In an address at the African Presidential Roundtable in Berlin last year I mentioned that "during my time as President in Ghana we had a rude awakening". Despite all the debates we realised that land issues and land tenure circumstances in Ghana was in a terrible mess. We found that a plurality of land tenure and management systems (i.e. state and customary) prevailed in the country, but that these systems were poorly articulated and increasingly caused problems of contradiction and conflict.
We furthermore found that, in spite of some positive achievements - including the introduction of maps, deeds and registry systems, and the release of land for public infrastructure purposes like schools, hospitals and roads - the practical benefits of the Lands Commission and other delegated authorities to the silent majority (i.e. the rural, peri-urban and urban poor, the disabled, the unemployed, the low and middle-income earners, etc.) were not evident.
It also became evident that interventions by the Lands Commission, such as compulsory acquisition of land and non-payment of compensation, have resulted in social unrest, displacement of villagers, and landlessness in affected communities.
Land administration in Ghana is bedeviled with the multiple sale of parcels of land by different parties claiming ownership of the same parcel of land, the poor use of compulsory acquisition powers by government agencies to acquire various tracts of land for which they are unable to pay compensation, weak management, both public and customary, and quite recently, the menace of land guards. As of July 2004, there were about 66,000 land disputes before the courts, resulting from the inability of traditional or customary authorities to identify the extent of land boundaries.
The foundation for reform - National Land Policy
Against the background of these problems the NDC government began the process of developing a comprehensive land policy for Ghana in 1994, which culminated in the launch of the National Land Policy document, the recommendations of which were to be implemented over a period of 15 years, in three, five-year phases. The implementation of the recommended policy actions in the National Land Policy led to the development of the Land Administration Project (LAP).
Land Administration Project (LAP) and other developments since 1999 The NDC government envisaged a 15-year programme to sort out the mess of land tenure in Ghana. When the NPP took control in 2001 they either did not realise the severity of the problem or ignored the reform initially because it was NDC initiated. Nevertheless, the following developments en route to sorting out the mess have taken place, and the initial timeframe has now moved to 15 - 25 years.
Land Administration Project (LAP)
The Land Administration Project (LAP-1) is the first phase of a commitment by the Government of Ghana to use the Land Administration Programme to reduce poverty and enhance economic/social growth by improving security of tenure, simplifying the process of acquiring land by the populace, developing the land market and fostering prudent land management by establishing an efficient system of land administration, both state and customary based on clear, coherent polices and laws supported by appropriate institutional structures.
The project has multi-donor support with development partners including the International Development Association, Nordic Development Fund (NDF), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The rest are German Bank for Reconstruction (KFW).
The successful implementation of LAP is anticipated to lead to the establishment of a sustainable system of land administration that would ensure:
  • A clear, coherent and consistent set of land administration policies and laws;
  • An efficient and decentralized land administration system operating throughout Ghana in accordance with Government policy and compatible with cultural usage and responsive to the needs of the people, within a self financial mechanism;
  • The attainment of high-level confidence of the community, based on a culture of transparency, responsiveness and services;
  • A disciplined, efficient and transparent land market;
  • All land rights are unambiguously recognised, adequately demarcated and securely registered;
  • An environment where land disputes are managed and minimized by open and rapid resolution processes;
  • That land sector agencies and traditional authorities are fully integrated, appropriately structured and resourced, accessible and self-financing;
  • That access to land and settlement is orderly, economical and transparent, and based on a fully coordinated process of land development;
  • That land related information is current, accurate, universally available and shared. This is of great significance to the country, and
  • That traditional authority has the capacity to manage their lands in a very efficient manner and is accountable to their communities as trustees of the land.
We live in a global world and the fortunes of our continent are inextricably linked to developments in other parts of the world, but it is becoming increasingly clear that our continent's vulnerability has been worsened by the attractions of 'quick money' and sharp practices where the sale of lands for the production of newly found industrial crops is killing our ability to sustain food crop production.
As in the Ghana example land security has been tackled to a significant degree even though there have been distortions in the recent past with the wanton sale of lands for fancy and luxury residential accommodation, which have led to open disputes between traditional authority and government.
It is important that African countries legislate urgently on the mode of acquisition of land and address concerns on what such land purchases are meant for. If we continue to maintain the antiquated status quo where purchases of large tracts of land are not queried, sooner than later the allure of easy money will see all our prime and arable lands sold either for property development, as is the craze in Ghana or for the production of crops to satisfy the developed world's demand.
The allure of capital from such land sales is surely a difficult one to ignore but like the developed world we need to employ some protectionist policies to save our continent from a new form of colonization.
Thank you.
Jerry John Rawlings is a Former President of Ghana who is still actively involved in promoting probity, accountability and transparency on the African continent.