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Research Report

The anatomy of large-scale farmland acquisitions in sub-Saharan Africa

George C. Schoneveld
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 32
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    The increasing commercial interest in farmland, particularly for the purpose of plantation agriculture, has become the subject of much debate in the public and political arena. Since 2005, rapidly changing global market conditions have encouraged various actors to seek access to large areas of fertile agricultural land for the cultivation of food crops and biofuel feedstocks. One of the key drivers has arguably been the increasing volatility and inflationary pressures on prices in the food and energy sectors – with the World Food Price Index more than doubling and the Oil Price Index almost trebling between 2005 and 2011 (see...

  2. (pp. 2-3)

    To date limited accurate data has been available as to the magnitude of farmland acquisitions across sub-Saharan Africa. This has made it difficult to accurately gauge the severity and distribution of social and environmental impacts. While previous efforts to quantify the magnitude of farmland acquisitions have offered some valuable insights, they have often suffered from methodological shortcomings, being based on unverifiable accounts or incorporating speculative reports.

    One of the main challenges in collecting reliable data is that comprehensive and disaggregated data on large-scale farmland acquisitions is not made publically available by most governments in sub-Saharan Africa. While the political sensitivity...

  3. (pp. 4-4)

    This analysis is based on a dataset of projects developed from October 2008 to November 2011.¹ The analysis includes only those projects from the forestry and agricultural sector that engage in plantation production models. It excludes agricultural and forestry investments adopting smallholder-oriented business models (e.g. tenant farming or out-grower schemes), industrial logging concessions, and investments in other land-intensive/extensive sectors. The projects incorporated into the analysis involve the transfer of use or ownership rights over contiguous areas of land larger than 2000 ha.² Only land transfer agreements that were entered into after January 2005 are included. This date was taken as...

  4. (pp. 4-12)

    A total of 353 projects larger than 2000 ha were identified across 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, covering an area of 18 104 896 ha. This is equivalent to about 8.3% of the annual area harvested in sub-Saharan Africa (calculated from FAOSTAT)³. A total of 297 projects (15 094 911ha) fulfil Category 1 requirements, and 56 (3 009 985) fulfil Category 2 requirements.⁴ Within Category 1, seven projects (734 718 ha) had conditional leasehold agreements. The median project size is 18 512 ha and the mean project size 50 856 ha. A total of 53 projects exceeded 100 000 ha,...

  5. (pp. 12-15)

    While the primary purpose of this paper is not to reflect on the impacts of large-scale farmland acquisitions, the data does give some insight into the potential risks associated with these types of investment.

    Firstly, country data on the scale of farmland acquisitions provides a perspective on the potential competition with other important land uses. This can be illustrated by contrasting the total area acquired with the extent of available and suitable land. As can be discerned from Table 4, the threat of farmland acquisitions competing with other land uses (in this case existing agricultural and forested land) varies greatly...

  6. (pp. 15-16)

    This research has helped highlight some of the key trends associated with large-scale farmland acquisition in sub-Saharan Africa. It has shown the distribution of farmland acquisitions to be widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, albeit with comparatively high concentrations in certain countries. Since 2005, the largest areas of land were found to have been acquired in Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan and Zambia, collectively accounting for almost two-thirds of the total area acquired. With comparatively limited areas of land that can be considered suitable and available, the magnitude of farmland acquisitions may have particularly dire social and environmental implications in...