The True Face of Landgrabs in West Africa

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Farmer in Guinea-Bissau
Farmer whose land was taken: village of Sare Djae, Guinea-Bissau.Credit: Amine Boulhian

Whose land is it? The State will answer our land under the law. Corporations will answer our land as they have a contract to exploit it. Communities will answer our land as they have lived, cared for, and farmed the land for generations.

- Alphone Yombouno, Researcher, Guinea

All across Africa, the scramble for land and resources is accelerating, and the list of casualties continues to grow, with farmers forced off their lands, and promises of jobs and local development not materializing.

But communities are not sitting idle. In 2009, the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN), a coalition of 180 farm organizations across nine countries in West Africa, held important campaigns to denounce what was perceived as a new wave of colonialism.

In 2012, Inter Pares initiated an action research project in collaboration with COPAGEN and the Université de Montréal. A central aspect of the research is that communities affected by landgrabs were involved as co-researchers.

Land inventories carried out in nine countries in West Africa reveal that nearly eight million hectares of land were acquired in the last decade. More in-depth impact studies carried out in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea reveal a common pattern.

The landgrabs:

  • are agreed to by national governments and companies without informing local residents;
  • result in a reduction and/or deterioration of arable land for growing food by local populations, and a worsening of local diets;
  • impact women in a disproportionate way, reducing their access to land and compromising their role in ensuring food security within the household.

These impacts are evident in the research project’s documentary film: La fièvre verte (Green Fever). This film bears witness to the tragedy and injustice of landgrabs, and asks important questions such as the one posed by Alphonse Yombouno above.

In April 2014, Alphonse and his colleague Francis Ngang came to Canada to present the main research findings to policy makers, academics, civil society groups, and farmers.

The film proved to be an effective catalyst for discussions and reflection, and is an important contribution to our ongoing effort to defend and further grow the space for family farms.

Land inventories reveal that nearly eight million hectares of land were acquired in the last decade.

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