Issues of the Sudanese Political Economy and Problems of Agricultural Land Tenure in the Jazeera Project (1)

Prof. El-sidieg A. Abashera
Chairman of Jazeera Scheme

“The land question is nowhere a mere local question; it is a universal question”

                                                                                                      (Henry George; 1881)


Land tenure is one of the most important issues facing the country, because it is closely linked to people’s lives, and with their economic, social, and political stability, and even with their existence in the first place. In this section of the book, we address the issue of land in Sudan, but with a special focus on the issue of land in the Jazeera Agricultural Scheme, as it has a well-known and comprehensive history, that on one hand, and the other hand, because Jazeera Agricultura Scheme represents, and by all accounts, a cornerstone of the modern sector on which the contemporary Sudanese economy was built, and then became dependent on it, in its existence and its future development. More importantly, in the course of the scheme and its development, the laws governing it have played a major role in consolidating that course and in advancing that development.

These laws, in the end, are merely a compendium and expression of a conflict, even more precisely are of class struggle over land, its tenure, and its yields. A kind of struggle that has never ceased throughout the history of the Jazeera Agricultural scheme. It is a conflict that exists as a result of complex and interlocking relationships. Relationships, those laws have tried to interpret and explain, not only from the perspective of their human dimension but also from their economic, social, and even political dimension, as it appears in the outcome of the final analysis.

Important background, The Phenomenon of Land Grabbing 

As we address the issues that relate to land in Sudan, and with a special focus on the land of Jazeera Agricultural Scheme, there is a historical fact that is, more clearly, unfolding before the world every day, where there is no other option but to put it and point directly to it. That fact is the emergence of the global phenomenon that has come to be known as “The Land Grabbing”. It is a phenomenon that is no longer remains of interest to economists alone but has also attracted the attention of international public opinion leaders and human rights defenders, particularly those who advocate protecting the rights of indigenous people in owning their indigenous land.

That international interest which was referred to, could be noticed as it was reflected in those different attempts of, not only, defining the term of “land grabbing phenomenon” itself, but in its composition and content, and to the extent of its application and resulted in consequences, economically, socially, politically and even culturally, across the world,  especially in underdeveloped and developing countries, where they have become the main target of the world powers, that are frantically searching for land, and that was mainly for investment, so they can achieve two goals, firstly food satisfaction, and secondly production of bio-energy. In this regard, the countries of Africa and South America were the focus of consideration, and that is merely because there was an abundance of land available in these countries. It is the land intended for the sake of investment!

Between 1995 and 1996, satellite imagery was carried out around the world to find out its potential for agriculture. The results of that imagery showed that “80% of the world’s reserve agricultural is in Africa and South America. Estimates based on satellite imagery from 1995-1996 give a total cultivable land in Africa of 807 million ha (approximately 1,977 million acres) of which 197 million ha (approximately 483 million acres) are under cultivation.” (Lorenzo Cotula, et al: 2018). So, with a simple calculation, what is used is equal to less than 25% of Africa’s agricultural land!

The surveys also showed that Africa is the most fortunate continent in the world in terms of having land, whether in terms of its fertility or in terms of its size, where no other continent does. It has been noticed that seven countries possess 50% of the world agricultural land, and those countries are “Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Argentina, and Bolivia.” (ibid) What we are interested in here and in this excerpt is that Sudan, with its position among these countries, has become in the eye of the storm, that is, becomes the focus and target of the swoop or the “land grabbing”!

The difference over the name or terminology of the phenomenon itself, among the parties interested in it, does reveal the reality of the position of each party towards its “essence” and the “consequences” when it is practiced and becomes an actual activity. The phenomenon of “the Land Grabbing”, undoubtedly, represents a new form of colonization and exploitation post “Modern Colonialism”, if we could say. A form that looks softer in appearance compared to seemingly rude forms, i.e. those practiced by transcontinental, and multinational corporations, whose star subsequently ascended the demise of traditional colonialism and the rise of the national liberation movement in Africa, Asia, and Latin America!

The forces behind the spread of the phenomenon of “land Grabbing”, both in developed and underdeveloped countries, include, among others, specific and multiple actors from different governments, especially those dictatorship ones, particularly in Africa, as well as other investment bodies, global financial houses, and Sovereign Wealth  Funds (SWFs), which are of huge wealth and belong to wealthy and rich countries such as China, the Arab Gulf states, and the United States of America.

According to the UNCTAD report of 2018, that foreign direct investment (FDI) is estimated at $1.43 trillion, where Africa and Latin America share of it accounting for $42 billion and $151 billion, respectively.

One of the most known foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region is the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which engages in a big joint venture of “Land Grabbing” deals in South-Eastern Asia and Africa. Besides, there are other investment institutions owned by States, known as State-owned Enterprises (SOEs),  such as Qatar’s Zad Holding, which some researchers point to its strong investment presence in Sudan. It became well known that a big portion of this institution’s investment is associated with the prevailing phenomenon of “land Grabbing”!

In confirming the overwhelming spread of this phenomenon, we note some of the facts cited by the World Bank, including that “there are 464 Land Grabbing were executed between 2008 and 2009, and that 22 million hectares were captured only, between 2010 and 2011 (an area equivalent to 54 million acres, 25 times the size of Jazeera Agricultural Scheme in Sudan). The most important reason behind scrambling for “Land Grabbing” is that global investors and brokers are trying to provide food for densely populated countries, which are characterized by fluctuating and unstable agricultural seasons (e.g. China, India, and South Korea), as well as one of the main reasons for the feverish competitiveness, is the production of bio-energy. The foresaid scrambling and unprecedented “Land Grabbing” attempts had happened, with regards to Africa, in seven countries, where the price of one hectare of land was less than a dollar (i.e., an acre is less than half a dollar.) (Alexander Reid Ross: 2014)

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