Category Archives: Land Grabbing

Gates Foundation spends $1.7B on farming in Africa


In this 2006 photo provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates look at cassava seeds and root during a visit to a demonstration plot at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture research station in Abuja, Nigeria. The world’s largest charitable foundation announced five years ago it would spend millions of dollars to fight poverty and hunger in Africa, largely by investing in agriculture. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $1.7 billion, but its leaders say it could take 20 years to see the results of that work. (AP Photo/ Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

It has drawn attention from a Seattle nonprofit called AGRA Watch, whose members say they are concerned about the foundation’s interest in genetically modified seeds and its relationship with African farmers.

Associated Press | Jun 1, 2011

By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP

SEATTLE (AP) — The world’s largest charitable foundation announced five years ago it would spend millions of dollars to fight poverty and hunger in Africa, largely by investing in agriculture. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $1.7 billion, but its leaders say it could take 20 years to see the results of that work.

The foundation has focused on ways to bring to Africa the green revolution that swept Latin America and Asia in the mid-1900s, boosting productivity in those regions. Its hope has been that helping small farmers grow more would allow them to sell their surplus, boosting their income and putting more food in hungry mouths. More than 70 percent of the world’s poor depend on agriculture for both their food and income.

Some people have been helped, and the foundation expects more will be in years to come, but agricultural development happens slowly, said Roy Steiner, the foundation’s deputy director of global development.

As an example, he said some Kenyan farmers will receive seeds for drought-tolerant maize this year. They’ll try them out, see the results and decide whether to adopt them more enthusiastically next year. A year after that, increased production could give them more money to buy food for their families or fertilizer to improve their other crops.

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“It takes years and years to shift the system,” Steiner said.

A more immediate impact might be made by buying and giving away food, and the Gates Foundation has done this indirectly with grants to groups such as Oxfam and CARE. But Steiner said the foundation doesn’t see this as a long-term solution.

“Giving food to people is certainly necessary when there’s a crisis,” he said. “But these people don’t want to be depending on outside charity. And, frankly, who is going to pay for all of that food being given?”

The foundation, he said, aims to prevent crises by strengthening agriculture systems.

It’s an approach anti-hunger organizations such as CARE and the United Nation’s World Food Programme also are taking. One-fifth or less of CARE’s budget now goes to the kind of direct food aid the nonprofit was created to provide 65 years ago. The rest is focused on agriculture development work similar to what the Gates Foundation is doing.

“This move from more of a charity approach to more of a capacity building and empowerment approach is something most of the major relief and development organizations have gone through,” said Kevin Henry, who directs CARE’s work in agriculture, economic development and climate change.

The World Bank estimates 338 million people live on less a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. government spends about $1.7 billion on food aid each year and about $1 billion a year on its Feed the Future Program, which focuses on reducing poverty and hunger through agriculture development.

Gates Foundation believes it can move more than 150 million in Africa out of extreme poverty by 2025 by improving agriculture. To that end, it has invested millions in seed research, buying and distributing fertilizer, improving farmers’ education and access to markets and political advocacy to get governments to spend more money on agriculture and to improve policies ranging from trade to land ownership.

Much of the work has been done through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which is run by Africans with heavy support from the foundation. AGRA has used Gates money to support plant breeding programs at nine African universities, help seed companies increase their production, set up soil mapping programs and provide credit to help seed, fertilizer and equipment suppliers expand, among other things.

It has drawn attention from a Seattle nonprofit called AGRA Watch, whose members say they are concerned about the foundation’s interest in genetically modified seeds and its relationship with African farmers. Co-chair Janae Choquette claims the foundation hasn’t talked to enough farmers to find out what kind of help they want.

“Their analysis of solutions is not coming from these communities,” Choquette said. “We want to support of the self-determination of farmers in deciding their own path forward.”

Steiner disputed Choquette’s claim, saying the foundation gets direction for all its work from farmers. But he also said one of its biggest challenges has been a lack of education among farmers.

“We want to make sure that we are really making things better over the long term, not making them worse,” he said.

The foundation says very little of its work involves genetically modified seeds.

Another big chunk of Gates Foundation money, $66 million, has been promised to the World Food Programme to help improve African farmers’ access to markets. The idea is the World Food Program saves money by buying locally, while its purchases put money in farmers’ pockets. Thus far, the program has spent about $30 million with small farmers and small- and medium-sized traders through its Purchase for Progress program.

The head of the foundation’s agriculture department, Sam Dryden, also is pushing it to help increase African farmers’ opportunities to sell their products beyond their own communities. The foundation has invested many millions in helping cocoa, cashew and coffee farmers reach the quality and quantities they need to sell to overseas markets.

A spokesman for Kraft Foods Inc. says that effort has resulted in his company buying some cashews directly from Africa, because the nuts can now be processed there instead of having to be shipped to Asia or elsewhere for processing.

Steve Yucknut, Kraft’s global vice president for sustainability, said the company hasn’t changed the overall amount of cashews it buys, but with his company and the Gates Foundation setting up processing plants in Africa, more of the profit from growing cashews stays in countries there.

Land Grab: John Malone Overtakes Ted Turner as Largest Individual Landowner in the U.S.

Land Grab: Media Mogul John Malone recently became the largest individual landowner in the U.S., edging out old friend, Ted Turner.

Forbes | Mar 10, 2011

By MONTE BURKE

When asked about the source of his lust for land, John C. Malone laughs. “My wife says it’s the Irish gene. A certain land hunger comes from being denied property ownership for so many generations.”

Malone, the 70-year-old billionaire chairman of Liberty Media, has well sated that hunger. He started his land feast slowly nearly two decades ago, collecting parcels in Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. By the beginning of last year he had nearly 1 million acres. But in the last seven months, as property prices and the cost of borrowing have dropped, the hard-bargaining cable magnate’s land grab shifted into overdrive.

In August Malone bought the 290,100-acre Bell Ranch in northeastern New Mexico, after waiting years for it to drop to what he says was a “rational price.” (The ranch was initially listed in 2006 for $110 million, then for $83 million last year. Malone is rumored to have gotten it for closer to $60 million.) Then in February he made his biggest splash, snapping up 1 million acres of timberland in Maine and New Hampshire for a “fair price.”

With that acquisition Malone became the largest private landowner in the U.S., at 2.2 million acres, according to The Land Report, which tracks sales. He surpassed his fellow billionaire Ted Turner, who had held the title for the previous 15 years. Turner owns 2.1 million acres in the U.S. and has an additional 100,000 acres in South America.

The turnover at the top is fitting. Malone (worth $4.5 billion) and Turner (worth $2.1 billion) are longtime acquaintances and business partners. Malone served on the board of Turner Broadcasting in the 1980s and bailed out Turner’s company in 1987. In 2007, through Liberty Media, Malone became the owner of the Atlanta Braves, Turner’s old baseball team. (“I will always think of them as Ted’s team,” says Malone.) The two have neighboring trophy ranches in northern New Mexico (Malone’s 250,000-acre TO Ranch runs east from Turner’s 591,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch.) And it was Turner, 72, who “first gave me this land-buying disease,” says Malone, when the duo flew a helicopter over Vermejo. Says Turner: “Over the years I’ve shared my experiences with John. I consider him a good friend and have great respect for him.”

So no Hatfield-McCoy here. Malone recently visited Turner, who was “down in the dumps because I still have lots of dry powder and he’s pretty tapped out,” jokes Malone. “I think if it was a race, Ted would concede.”

Turner seems happy to do just that, saying he was glad to see Malone make his latest acquisition. “We’re working toward the same goal–to be stewards of the land and make sure it’s preserved for future generations,” says Turner.

But though their conservation ends may be the same, their means differ. “Ted’s idea of tradition is to go back to pre-European times,” says Malone. Turner famously poisoned a stretch of Cherry Creek–which runs through his Flying D Ranch in Montana–to rid it of the invasive brown and rainbow trout. (He replanted the stream with native cutthroat trout.) At Turner’s ranch bison roam free over land that’s been cleared of most signs of human habitation.

Malone, on the other hand, says, “I tend to be more willing to admit that human beings aren’t going away.” So he believes that trees can be harvested without damaging the ecology and wildlife. (“I’m not an extreme tree-hugger,” he says.) He will continue the sustainable forestry operation on the Maine and New Hampshire land (purchased from GMO Renewable Resources, a private equity firm). Malone is also looking at wind-power opportunities on the property and will keep the land open for public recreation, a Maine tradition. Malone takes the same “working farm” philosophy with his western properties, like the Bell Ranch, where he raises cattle and horses.

Malone wants to “break even” on his land, but there is more than economics involved. “There’s the emotional and intellectual aspect of walking the land and getting that sense of awe,” he says. “I own it, sort of, for my lifetime.”

Like Turner, he has plans to conserve most of it for beyond his lifetime, through perpetual conservation easements. “But I’m not going to kid myself and think that 500 years from now, with population growth, that the government won’t start putting people on the land,” he says. “But at least I tried.”

Landowners

(Members of the Forbes Billionaires list in bold)

1. John Malone: 2.2 mn acres—With this year’s purchase of one million acres in Maine and New Hampshire, became the new top dog. Liberty Media chairman also owns property in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado.

2. Ted Turner: 2.1 mn acres—Land in seven states. Strident environmentalist has more than 50,000 bison. Has begun renewable energy plant (solar) in New Mexico.

3. Red Emmerson: 1.722 mn acres—Runs family-owned timber company Sierra Pacific Industries, founded by father, “Curly.” Biggest landowner in California. Recently has begun placing some land in conservation easements.

4. Brad Kelley: 1.7 mn acres—Discount cigarette billionaire owns land in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, mostly used to propagate rare animal species, like the pygmy hippo and okapi.

5. Irving family: 1.2 mn acres—Through the timber company, Irving Woodlands, the Canadian family owns forest land in Maine, most of which is sustainably harvested.

6. Singleton Family: 1.11 mn acres—Children of Dr. Henry Singleton, founder of Teledyne, Inc., run ranchland in New Mexico. Avid participants in local rodeos.

7. King Ranch: 911,215 acres—Land in Texas and Florida. Farm sugarcane, vegetables, citrus and pecans. The ranch produced 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault.

8. Pingree heirs: 800,000 acres—Family’s Seven Island Land Company owns tract of land in Maine bigger than state of Rhode Island. Heirs of David Pingree, a 19th century shipper.

9. Reed family: 770,000 acres—Through Simpson Lumber Company, owns timberland in Pacific Northwest.

10. Stanley Kroenke: 740,000—St. Louis Rams and Arsenal owner owns cattle and recreational ranches in Montana and Wyoming.

Iowa population shifts from rural to urban

USA TODAY | Feb 12, 2011

By Grant Schulte

DES MOINES — Iowa’s population grew increasingly urban in the past decade as residents continued to leave rural counties and flock to a handful of larger cities, 2010 Census data released Thursday show.

Four of the state’s five biggest cities grew from 2000 to 2010, but only a third of its 99 counties did so.

Seven of those counties — all near urban centers — grew more than 10%. Five counties in rural western Iowa lost at least 10% of their residents.

The losses in rural Iowa are driven by a movement from factories and other goods-producing industries to more retail businesses, according to Iowa State University sociologist David Peters. He also attributes some of the losses to the combination of older residents dying and younger Iowans leaving for the bigger cities.

He predicts rural Iowa will continue a historic trend of merging school districts and other government services.

Fewer jobs will exist, Peters says, and small towns will slowly vanish.

“What we’re going to see by midcentury is a vastly depopulated Corn Belt and Great Plains,” Peters says. “You’re going to see ghost towns reappear.”
Census numbers where you live

Click here for an interactive map with data representing where you live.

The Census counted 120,031 more Iowans in 2010, a 4% increase from a decade earlier. More than half of that growth (58%) came from Hispanics. The number of Hispanics hit 151,544, up from 82,473 in 2000 — an 84% increase.

The increase in Hispanics is evidence that the state fared better economically than others, says Mark Grey, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

Grey says many are immigrants who found work in factories, slaughterhouses and farms.

“The reason they’re here is because we employ them,” Grey says. “I think this indicates you still have industries that are still very dependent on this workforce.”

David Cook-Martin, a sociologist at Grinnell College in central Iowa, says some Hispanics may have come to Iowa after working in larger cities that were hit harder by the economic downturn.

“Most people don’t want to leave where they’re from,” Cook-Martin says. “Economics has been a huge factor, but that gets lost in the heat of the debate these days. It takes something to move people from where they are. Going from a place like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York to a place like Iowa, takes some prompting.”

Polk County, the state’s largest and home to the capital city of Des Moines, expanded by 15%.

Linn County grew more than 10% despite a massive flood in 2008 that ruined thousands of homes and buildings. Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, gained 18%.

Much growth took place in the Des Moines suburbs, including West Des Moines, up 22%; Ankeny, up 68%; and Urbandale, up 36%.

U.S. town demolished over lead contamination


A sign on the youth soccer field in Picher, Oklahoma April 18, 2006. For 23 years now, the 1,500-plus residents of this historic mining community in northeast Oklahoma have known they were in trouble, trapped by growing evidence that waste from mining operations the area once thrived on was poisoning the air, the water and the land. To match feature Life Oklahoma. REUTERS/Carey Gillam

Reuters | Jan 28, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters Life!) – Most of its residents left, the school closed, the city government was disbanded and starting this week nearly every commercial building in Picher, Oklahoma, will be demolished.

But the owner of the last-remaining open business in Picher, which has been vacated over the years because of lead contamination, is not ready to go.

“It’s not time for me to leave yet,” said Gary Linderman, owner of Old Miner’s Pharmacy in what is left of central Picher, located in the northeast corner of the state.

“I have an obligation to people. We are all creatures of habit and closing might throw them off.”

In addition to providing prescriptions, the pharmacy is the only place left in town to buy snack food, beverages, over-the-counter medicine and other necessities.

Linderman declined a buyout from the federal government, which declared Picher a hazardous waste site in 1981 and has bought out about 900 homeowners and businesses. Crews demolished a funeral home, restaurant, thrift shop, apartment building and other structures this week, with more to come.

Besides lead contamination, Picher has suffered in recent years from sinkholes from old mines that threaten to swallow the community. Three years ago, a tornado destroyed about 150 homes, chasing more people away.

Picher’s population has shrunk from 1,640 in 2000 to only a handful of residents today. The school district and city government dissolved in 2009 and the post office closed.

The town had more than 14,000 residents in the 1920s.

Because of historic significance, a church, mining museum, auction house and a building where mining equipment was sold will remain standing, though they are abandoned. Linderman’s building will be surrounded by vacant lots in what used to be downtown, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m a farm boy,” he said. “I’m used to the wide open spaces.”

African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In

In Beldenadji, Mali, a canal has been extended to irrigate land, part of an American aid initiative. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming.

NY Times |  Dec 21, 2010

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

SOUMOUNI, Mali — The half-dozen strangers who descended on this remote West African village brought its hand-to-mouth farmers alarming news: their humble fields, tilled from one generation to the next, were now controlled by Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the farmers would all have to leave.

“They told us this would be the last rainy season for us to cultivate our fields; after that, they will level all the houses and take the land,” said Mama Keita, 73, the leader of this village veiled behind dense, thorny scrubland. “We were told that Qaddafi owns this land.”

Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.

Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.

But others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations.

“The food security of the country concerned must be first and foremost in everybody’s mind,” said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, now working on the issue of African agriculture. “Otherwise it is straightforward exploitation and it won’t work. We have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind.”

A World Bank study released in September tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres — the size of California and West Virginia combined — announced during the first 11 months of 2009 alone. More than 70 percent of those deals were for land in Africa, with Sudan, Mozambique and Ethiopia among those nations transferring millions of acres to investors.

Before 2008, the global average for such deals was less than 10 million acres per year, the report said. But the food crisis that spring, which set off riots in at least a dozen countries, prompted the spree. The prospect of future scarcity attracted both wealthy governments lacking the arable land needed to feed their own people and hedge funds drawn to a dwindling commodity.

“You see interest in land acquisition continuing at a very high level,” said Klaus Deininger, the World Bank economist who wrote the report, taking many figures from a Web site run by Grain, an advocacy organization, because governments would not reveal the agreements. “Clearly, this is not over.”

The report, while generally supportive of the investments, detailed mixed results. Foreign aid for agriculture has dwindled from about 20 percent of all aid in 1980 to about 5 percent now, creating a need for other investment to bolster production.

But many investments appear to be pure speculation that leaves land fallow, the report found. Farmers have been displaced without compensation, land has been leased well below value, those evicted end up encroaching on parkland and the new ventures have created far fewer jobs than promised, it said.

The breathtaking scope of some deals galvanizes opponents. In Madagascar, a deal that would have handed over almost half the country’s arable land to a South Korean conglomerate helped crystallize opposition to an already unpopular president and contributed to his overthrow in 2009.

People have been pushed off land in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zambia. It is not even uncommon for investors to arrive on land that was supposedly empty. In Mozambique, one investment company discovered an entire village with its own post office on what had been described as vacant land, said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations food rapporteur.

In Mali, about three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta are controlled by a state-run trust called the Office du Niger. In nearly 80 years, only 200,000 acres of the land have been irrigated, so the government considers new investors a boon.

“Even if you gave the population there the land, they do not have the means to develop it, nor does the state,” said Abou Sow, the executive director of Office du Niger.

He listed countries whose governments or private sectors have already made investments or expressed interest: China and South Africa in sugar cane; Libya and Saudi Arabia in rice; and Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and multinational organizations like the West African Development Bank.

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Trans-Texas Corridor resurrected, promoted under new name

‘Nightmare’ federal plan resurrected from crypt

Controversial project now promoted under new name

WorldNetDaily | Nov 22, 2010

By Jerome R. Corsi

It was Amadeo Saenz, the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, who not quite two years ago, proclaimed to the Dallas News, “Make no mistake: The Trans-Texas Corridor, as we have known it, no longer exists.”

But it’s been exhumed, now appearing on numerous government and industry alliance websites as the new and separate projects that areknown as the I-35 Corridor and the I-69 Corridor.

Moreover, the Texas agency appears to have made a strategic decision to begin first with the I-69 Corridor portion that had received less attention during the battle that raged over the mega-highway project called the Trans-Texas Corridor from 2006 to 2008 when George W. Bush was president.

That the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Obama administration continues to harbor the dream of Mexico-to-Canada NAFTA superhighways is made clear by the Federal Highway Administration website that proclaims the “Corridor: Interstate 69 (I-69) – Texas to Michigan” is to be fully operational under the following project description: “The 2,680-mile international and interstate trade corridor extends from Mexico to Canada.”

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Chinese farmer dies after self-immolation over land seizure

A Chinese farmer died after he set himself and his father on fire to prevent his house from being demolished in the latest case of deadly resistance against land seizures, the local government said.

Telegraph | Mar 28, 2010

Tao Huixi’s pig farm was due to be torn down to make way for a highway in the eastern province of Jiangsu. He had refused compensation of 75,000 yuan (£7,370) as too low and would not move, the local government said.

Tao locked himself and his elderly father in his house in Donghai county when officials paid him a visit Saturday and set the room on fire. He was killed and his father was injured, the government added in a statement on its website.

According to a report in the state-run Beijing News, the officials were demolition and relocation workers who had come with a bulldozer to tear the house down.

Tao’s son said the 68-year-old had been negotiating for months over the amount of compensation he should get, but no agreement had been reached with the local government, the report said.

Tao had reportedly said that his buildings alone were worth more than 150,000 yuan (£14,750), it added.

Land seizures have been a problem for years in China, and have given rise to the term “nail house” to describe a holdout tenant or occupant like Tao, likening them to a nail refusing to be hammered down.

Violent resistance has been reported in numerous cases as ordinary people take matters into their own hands to resist eviction they deem unfair.

In a case that shocked the nation, a woman set herself on fire in November in the southwestern province of Sichuan over the planned demolition of her husband’s garment-processing business. She died 16 days later.

The Chinese government has expressed concern over the issue amid fears it could spark widespread social unrest, and in January it issued a raft of proposals to change existing rules on land seizures.