In Africa, many of the locals are falling victim to "land grabbing". The stakeholders or financiers – and probable winners – are often pension funds and retirement savings plans in the northern hemisphere.
Faced with high-level market risks, the fund managers are keen to diversify their asset portfolios by "investing" in more farmland and agricultural commodities or agri-fuels. More and more seminars are focusing on promoting agricultural investments and land acquisition. These workshops are held in London or Geneva, like last year’s meeting at the Hotel Kempinski, and also in New York, Singapore or later this October in Addis-Ababa. Their success rate is good.
The continual search for new opportunities to make substantial profits quickly has led to a raft of financial products for agricultural commodities and the purchase of farmland as new ways of tapping the potential global returns.
The pension funds, that is, our retirement pension plans, have become the largest institutional "investors" in farmland worldwide. We should be pleased that our pension plans are in such good hands and our financial security is safeguarded for our retirement.
But there is a slight problem here. What was previously known as "land grabbing" is taking on apocalyptical proportions in Africa and elsewhere. Last year in Dakar, I met dozens of local men and women who were driven off their land that they had farmed for generations. Their land was destroyed by agricultural machinery, which is also desecrating their cemeteries and uprooting everything in its path, to prepare the ground for agricultural big business.
"We were driven out as if we were lazy time wasters," said a wizened old man. "We have lost our fields and have nowhere to go. We need them back – what are we supposed to live on otherwise?"
In their eyes, what is happening today means the end of family farms in Africa that employ between 70 and 80% of the local population. The only alternative is to join the ranks of impoverished agricultural workers or boost the numbers of people with no money or work and living on the outskirts of the city.
The assets held in our pension funds therefore leave a bitter taste, too. For this reason, last week several dozen NGOs appealed to countries to take their share of responsibility to "put a stop to land grabbing by the pension funds and financial institutions." And the citizens demanded their right to have a say in investments brokered on their behalf".