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Issue #1672      February 11, 2015

Land-grab investors in Nigeria

Farmers of the remote Gassol community in Nigeria’s Taraba State are facing a battle for their livelihoods in the face of a land grab backed by UK aid. A new report shows that the farmers are being forced off the land they have farmed for generations to make way for US company Dominion Farms to establish a 30,000 hectare rice plantation. Land containing plots held by thousands of farmers and a publicly funded irrigation system was handed over to Dominion by the local government. Yet local farmers were not consulted about the deal and are still to hear of any compensation or resettlement plan.

Africa holds almost half of the 31 million hectares of land acquired by overseas investors around the world since 2000. Countless deals between transnationals and governments have left small-scale farmers displaced and vulnerable. Yet it’s the involvement of millions of pounds of UK aid that means British government ministers are facing embarrassing questions about the plight of Gassol’s farmers.

Dominion Farm’s investments in Nigeria are just some of those pledged as part of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Launched in 2012, the program draws on billions of pounds in G8 aid to push for pro-corporate policy reforms across 10 African states to attract the world’s biggest agribusinesses. Like other African states, Nigeria is now changing its laws on land, seed and fertiliser markets and trade rules that effectively hand control of local food systems to corporate giants, including Unilever, Syngenta and Dominion. It’s why nearly 100 African campaign groups have branded the initiative “a new wave of colonialism”. Britain alone has pledged US$210 million in aid to Nigeria’s New Alliance projects.

With the New Alliance and its corporate investors under fire for failing to provide evidence of its impact on food security and poverty reduction nearly three years after its launch, British campaigners and MPs are demanding that UK aids protects communities’ food sovereignty instead of backing corporate profit. Last week, Labour MP Diane Abbott called on Secretary for International Development Justine Greening to take heed of Gassol’s farmers. “It is alarming that farmers in Taraba State, Nigeria, without having been consulted or compensated, are being forced from their land to make way for large-scale land investment by a multinational company,” said Abbott. “Allowing local populations to keep control over their land and seeds is a means towards sustainable development and avoids profit being syphoned off by large multinationals.”

G8 leaders would no doubt like their “corporate partners” to be seen as a beacon of responsible investment across Africa. Yet, like other New Alliance investors, Dominion is no stranger to controversy. Farmers in Siava District of southwest Kenya have complained that Dominion have not delivered promised jobs for local people after leasing farming land that CEO Calvin Burgess claims was a “malaria-infested swamp before we got here”.

With Gassol’s farmers already losing access to irrigation and fishponds they rely on for income and food, the community has pledged to fight back. “We were ready for peaceful demonstrations, dialogue and even to cry out to the whole world just to hear our voices,” says local farmer Mallam Ismaila Gebi. “But if this does not work out then we can mobilise against Dominion Farms for our land, the land of our forefathers, with our families and remain there until they answer us.”

New Internationalist

Next article – PEGIDA: Horrors and contradictions

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