A Kenyan theologian and ecologist is warning that foreign companies using land in Africa to grow food and bio-fuel crops are undermining food security for millions of poor people on the continent - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
Jesse Mugambi, a professor of philosophy and religious studies from the University of Nairobi, cautioned that communities are losing food sovereignty, land ownership and biodiversity in deals where products end up in companies' home markets.
"Africa has the capacity to feed itself, but the land concessions will continually reduce this capacity," Mugambi told ENInews in a recent interview, a day after the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Food Programme reported that 925 million people globally suffer from chronic hunger.
Some investors say that due to risks associated with the stock market, more and more of them are putting money into food-producing land, where they foresee higher yields. This tendency can force small and medium-sized farmers, who produce for local markets, out of business.
Mugambi, a member of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches working group on climate change, noted that Africa is the only continent that produces food for others while importing what it consumes.
"The consequences of this 'land grabbing' are disastrous for the future. The use to which the grabbed land is put is also alarming," he added.
Mugambi said vast tracts of fertile land in Kenya grew coffee, tea, cotton, sisal and pyrethrum for export early in the 20th century, a factor he said that still contributes to serious food shortages.
Then in the 1970s, fertile lands, where farmers grew maize as a food crop, were converted to grow sugar cane for ethanol production.
"For a short time [in the 1970s] we had gasohol in our petrol stations, but the euphoria did not last. Now where the cane farmers are they are perpetually in food deficit, and they cannot recover the returns on their land, labour and inputs," said Mugambi.
At least five million hectares of land, an area the size of Denmark, is being acquired by foreign companies to produce bio-fuels mainly for northern markets, according to an August 2010 report by Friends of the Earth, an international environmental protection advocacy group.
European and Chinese companies are dominating the practice concentrated in 11 countries and the acquisitions have met with protest in Tanzania, Madagascar and Ghana, the report says. Mugambi warned that bio-fuels mark a step in the wrong direction in human technological history.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]