24 February 2012
Last updated at 00:49
In the last few years, large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Africa, Latin America and Asia have made headlines across the world. In Africa, countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, DR Congo and Sierra Leone have all signed major land deals with foreign investors. But how do they affect local people? Photos: Alfredo Bini. The BBC World Service Africa Debate programme is discussing land deals at 1900 GMT on Friday 24 February.
The host governments and investors say that this will lead to the creation of infrastructure, jobs and social services. In Awasa, Ethiopia, a firm called Jittu Horticulture employs around 1,300 workers who are said to earn less than $1 (£0.63) a day. The company assures that all of them have access to health care and a pension.
With a greenhouse area of about 800 hectares (8 km2), Jittu is one of the largest agricultural companies in the country and is the biggest exporter to the United Arab Emirates. Through one of its Dubai importers, it supplies many hotels, restaurants and shopping centres there.
The same firm employs some 400 people in Holetta, near Addis Ababa, for a similar salary. Many of them would probably not have found any other job. Jittu belongs to Sheik al-Amoudi, a Saudi of Ethiopian origin who, according to Forbes, is the world's 63rd richest person. The company ships flowers daily to The Netherlands.
Critics, who describe these acquisitions as "land grabs", believe that their main beneficiaries are the foreign investors because most of the commodities produced are for export. They argue that the land deals are not done transparently, thus creating a breeding ground for corruption.
“I wouldn’t define it as land grabbing. We exploit the economic opportunities which came about after the food price shock of 2007. The land is offered to us by the government, who is its legitimate owner. We don’t pay much rent but we create jobs,” says Birinder Singh, the manager of Karuturi Agro Products.
Forest is burnt in the Karuturi compound in Gambella, western Ethiopia, in order to make it easier for the tractors to prepare the land for planting oil palm and sugar cane. The initial compound of 100,000 hectares (1,000 km2) will be extended to 300,000.
The area is near a national park where Africa's second largest animal migration goes through. It borders another compound leased to Saudi Star, controlled by Mr al-Amoudi. Karuturi says that it has done environmental impact studies and preserved the free movement of animals through corridors of intact forest.
Ethiopia's government has been accused of forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can be leased to foreign investors. US-based Human Rights Watch says people are being relocated to new villages that "lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities". The government rejects these allegations.
"I can tell you that it is baseless - on both grounds - on both the land grab issue and resettlement of the people. No-one is forced. This is an absolute lie. The people around Gambella are inhabiting the place in a very scattered manner," Ethiopian Information Minister Bereket Simon told the BBC World Service last month.
"It is true that we are providing access to land on a lease basis for 25 years for local and foreign developers. We have about three million hectares of land which is not inhabited by anybody," the minister added.
Adam and Nebiyu are herders from Gambella. Since the land they traditionally used has been cordoned off by investors, they say they can no longer cross the pastures and the route to the water sources has become longer.
In Awash, central Ethiopia, sugar cane cuttings are planted. This territory is included in the government-owned Metahara Sugar Factory's 20,000 hectare expansion plan for boosting sugar and biofuel production.
The land here has been traditionally inhabited by the Afar people. Some of them say that they are ready for an armed revolt before accepting to move their villages. The area benefits from food help distributed by various agencies, including the World Food Program and USAid.
John, from the Afar region, had not been paid for three months. He is one of the 10 local people who were supposed to be working on a 2,000-hectare compound leased to a Saudi investor for the production of alfalfa, which according to the initial plan was to be sold to bovine farms in Saudi Arabia. The production never started.
Lopiso Lagebo, 25, comes from Kambata, a small town 800km away from Metahar. He starts working at 0500, cuts up to 5 tons (5,000 kg) of sugar cane a day and earns $0.8. The company recruits most of the work force around his home town, where land shortage drives the workers to emigrate.
Local farmers sell fruit and vegetables that by Western standards would be considered organic because they are grown with traditional methods on small allotments, often just outside Addis Ababa. Many say that their activity is being jeopardised by the agricultural industrialisation process.
Addis Ababa is home to Africa's first Goods Exchange. The main products concerned are coffee, grain, maize, sesame and cotton. The exchange volumes are usually under $1.3m a day but photographer Alfredo Bini points out that it is expected that, over the next five years, they will experience an exponential increase.