Land grabbing literally means taking land by force.
The term aptly
describes an economic project that is spreading rapidly throughout the
world, particularly across the African continent – where over 10 million
hectares have already been acquired by Middle Eastern and European
investors – and aims to dispossess people of huge chunks of land through
blackmail and deceit, radically change the type of crop and manage the
new production with a view to making massive profits.
This results in
serious land degradation, the transformation of the labour market at the
expense of local farmers and breeders and the creation of islands
within states that essentially belong to other entities.
The key players in this new form of economic colonialism and
exploitation of public land for private profit, are multinational
companies (many of them European) that are increasingly going to parts
of developing countries and convincing people with “bad contracts” to
give them access to vast acres of land. In Ghana, the phenomenon is
assuming dramatic proportions and the Catholic Church has decided to
take action, bishops say.
“A huge portion of land has been regularly expropriated for years and
previous crops, chiefly food crops, now produce biofuels,” says Mgr.
John Kwofie Bishop of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana’s fourth biggest city in
terms of inhabitants and an important economic centre in the country,
situated on the south-westernmost strip. The land is being devastated,
the locals are not producing the food needed for subsistence and on top
of that they are losing their jobs or are employed in different sectors
with tying contracts”.
In the document “Unmasking Land Grabbing in Ghana; Restoring
Livelihoods; paving the way for Sustainable Development Goals”,
published at the end of last August Ghana’s Episcopal Conference in
collaboration with Caritas Ghana and other entities openly denounced the
phenomenon, revealing the perverse mechanisms regulating it.
“Inadequate administration by many local politicians has created fertile
ground for this situation which risks upsetting biodiversity and
forcing entire swathes of the population to emigrate in addition to
causing enormous environmental damage and trample all over fundamental
“Western businessmen,” Mgr. Kwofie continues, “are unscrupulous they
never consult the local people before intervening or, when they do, they
propose contracts that take advantage of simple people’s good faith
which has been bought with false promises. Once the land has been taken,
it is stripped of existing crops that have always at least guaranteed
food self-sufficiency and farmers become dependent on foreign
The report was presented to the national and local governments and a
cautious optimism is spreading regarding its positive political
reception. Ghana could give rise to a movement that will hopefully be as
widespread as possible and able to involve as many in Africa as
The land grabbing phenomenon is spreading like an oil slick across
the continent and aside from all the above-mentioned problems it is
triggering conflicts between local communities that are losing physical
space. Speaking to Fides news agency, the Executive Director of the
Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), Fr. Aniedi Okure, mentions
one case in point.
In one area of Sierra Leone, the sale of land has
deprived local communities from spaces to bury their dead. To make up
for this lack of place, areas of neighbouring communities being invaded,
sparking violent reactions, tensions and clashes.
“Since the “Laudato Si’” encyclical was
published,” Kwofie concludes, “we bishops have perceived a deep sense of
understanding with regard to our problems on the one hand but also an
impulse to take action on the other. We will play an active role in this
battle for justice and will try to force the government to take
measures as soon as possible: in some inland areas the land has already
been irretrievably damaged and there are areas such as the Volta region
where it is now impossible to grow and produce food. I wanted the focus
of my diocese’s latest synod to be precisely this, I urged: “Let us wake
up and protect our land” and called on my faithful to adopt a clear
stance against this horrible phenomenon.”