When the Land-Grabbing Threat Returns

From Senegal to Tanzania, the land-grabbing phenomenon is spreading fast and some notorious examples are making an unwelcome comeback

Not even a year has passed since a popular uprising forced the Senegalese government to step back from the leasing of 20,000 hectares (the equivalent of twice the metropolitan area of Paris) in Fanaye, in the north of the country. The Italian-Senegalese company Senhuile/Senethanol wanted to plant this huge expanse of land with sweet potatoes to turn into biofuels. In the fall of 2011, after a series of brutally suppressed protests, it seemed as though the project was going to be shelved. The country was preparing for elections and probably the media attention following the death of two protesters was inconvenient.

Following the elections, however, Senhuile/Senethanol returned to the attack and, according to the AFP, declared its intention to move the project to another region, Ndiael. The local NGO Enda Pronaut was quick to sound the alarm. “More than half of the Senegalese population makes its living from agriculture or livestock farming,” said director Mariam Sow during a press conference in Dakar. “They need their land to produce food in a sustainable way. Land grabbing turns the land into a commodity and does not consider the socio-cultural aspect. It promotes industrial agriculture to the detriment of small-scale food production, which can guarantee genuine local development.”

On the other side of the African continent, in Tanzania, the situation is equally dramatic. A few days ago, the international campaigning organization Avaaz launched an appeal to stop the Maasai people from being kicked off their land in the Serengeti.

In July 2009, the inhabitants of various villages in northern Tanzania, in Lolindo, were evicted. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, about 200 homes were burned down and 50,000 head of livestock put to flight. More than 20,000 Maasai people were swept up in this wave of violence and left without food and shelter. According to Anaya’s report, those responsible for the attack were forces from the paramilitary police Field Force Unit, together with armed men from a private company from the United Arab Emirates, the Ortello Business Corporation, which wanted to claim the hunting rights it had bought from the government. At the origins of this as-yet unpunished violence lie the commercial interests connected to the exploitation of the Serengeti area by the safari industry.

Unfortunately, these abuses have deep roots. Since the start of the last century, the Serengeti has been presented in the west as an unspoiled land, the undisputed realm of a wild nature that cannot coexist with humans, not even Maasai herders. According to journalist Fred Pearce, author of The Land Grabbers (Beacon Press, 2012), the age-old symbiosis between the local population and nature has been completely negated by this stereotype, in order to justify the eviction of the native people and to leave the safari business to others. “Bizarre as it might seem, our vision of virgin nature has encouraged the takeover of the land by a new breed of super-rich conservationists and tourism operators. The Serengeti has become the world’s biggest zoo, in which the Maasai warriors are reduced to decorative walk-on parts.”

Sign the Avaaz appeal Stop the Serengeti sell-off

Read more about land-grabbing old.slowfood.com/landgrabbing

Come to the 2012 Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre and take part in the conference “Hungry for Land” at 3pm on Saturday October 27.

Image: www.oaklandinstitute.org

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