Land is Life

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By Nancy Djembe | Intern, Sub-Saharan Africa Program | Women’s Earth Alliance

Last Thursday, May 3rd, I came home so angry and frustrated about what I had just learned from Anuradha Mittal’s lecture on land grabs in Africa. Anuradha is the founder and director of the Oakland Institute, a think-tank that works to “increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic and environmental issues in both national and international forums.”


landgrabsI was angry because thousands of Africans are being displaced as western corporations and institutions continue to benefit from unfair land deals. For example, AgroSol, a US based corporation has access to thousands of hectares of land in Tanzania at the expense of local communities for whom land is a source of livelihood. My anger also stems from the fact that African governments fail to uphold the interests of its own people, especially women, who are disproportionately impacted by these land-grabs.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, women make up 70% of smallholder farmers, producing about 80% of food. The direct connection of women to land as natural resource managers undermines their ability to sustain their livelihoods.

Land-grabs in Africa is a not a new issue. There are several parallels between the land grabs happening today and the scramble and partition of Africa in the 19th century. What is more disturbing is that these land-grabs are being framed as bringing economic growth to the continent, while in reality, land grabs are displacing people, destroying livelihoods and communities, undermining local economies and self-reliance, and fueling foreign dependency.

Several organizations in Africa and abroad, such as Third World Network (Ghana) and the Oakland Institute, Priority Africa Network are engaged in research and advocacy initiatives to raise awareness on this alarming trend. To effectively address land-grabs, it will require a critical mass of voices to speak out; good governance with accountability and transparency; visionary leadership; advocacy and education. As Anuradha Mittal shared in her lecture, “land is life, and not a luxury or a choice.” As such, it is critical to ensure that all people can have access to and enjoy their rights to land.