Monday, November 23, 2009

Gaddafi asks food summit to stop Africa "landgrab"

ROME (Reuters) Mon Nov 16, 2009 - Libya's Muammar Gaddafi called for an end to the purchase of African farmland by food-importing nations at a U.N. hunger summit on Monday, describing it as "new feudalism" which could spread to Latin America as well.

"Rich countries are now buying the land in Africa. They are cheating African people out of their rights. This is also going to happen in Latin America ... ," he told the summit, which was mostly attended by African and Latin American leaders.

"Small farmers are being bereft of their own land thanks to new feudal powers coming from outside of Africa and buying up land very cheaply," Gaddafi told the meeting at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome.

"We should fight against this new feudalism, we should put an end to this land grab in African countries," he said.

High food prices which sparked a food supply scare in 2008 prompted countries like Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea to seek farmland abroad.

The FAO plans to draw up guidelines to try to safeguard the sometimes conflicting interests of local farmers and investors for the governance of land and other natural resources, and is consulting companies, farmers and independent experts.

French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire said on the sidelines of the U.N. summit that "predatory" farmland acquisitions in poor countries should be halted.

But U.N. officials said investments in land could also benefit small farmers in the developing world.

"It is a wrong language to call them land grabs. Those are investments in farmland like investments in oil exploration," said Kanayo Nwanze, who heads the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development. "We can have win-win situations."

Earlier this year the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, said that since 2006 15-20 million hectares of land in poor countries had been sold or were under negotiations for sale to foreign buyers.

Supporters of such deals say they provide new seeds, technology and money for agriculture in economies that have suffered from under-investment for decades.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told the summit "private investment should be encouraged," both domestic and foreign, but rules were required "preferably within the spirit of a code of conduct on agricultural investment in developing countries."