Issues of the Sudanese Political Economy and Problems of Agricultural Land Tenure in the Jazeera Project (2)

Differences about the terminology and content of the phenomenon:

Prof. El-Sidieg A. Abashera
Chairman of Gezira Scheme

The fundamental difference that must be taken into account about close examining of any phenomenon, always and generally, is not about the term or the name, but about the essence and content of the concept, i.e. the content and substance of the phenomenon, especially concerning those phenomena in the field of political economy, as the issues in this field are  All in All rooted into the relationships and the social conflicts emanated from human economic activities.

Concerning the phenomenon of “Land Grabbing”, states and international institutions, such as the International Monetary  Fund, do not use the same term, i.e. “Land Grabbing”, and that mainly because of the conceptual critique weight of that term in exposing the phenomenon and its negative aspects, and exposing of those unacceptable activities related to land, its tenure and use!. So, for the sake of avoiding all that, these institutions incline to use a term such as “large-Scale land acquisition”, “Land Consolidation” and/or “Land Concentration” instead, “Governments, corporations and even some civil society organizations prefer these terms over ‘land grabbing’ This is a tactic to hide the negative effects of land grabbing, but the terms denote the same issue.” (Katelyn Baker-Smith, et al: 2016)

According to the IMF website, “Transnational investments or large-scale land acquisitions (called land grabs by critics) are by developed countries of agricultural land in developing countries, and If properly regulated can promote long-term economic development and reduce poverty.” (ibid) The African Development Bank’s definition looks almost identical to the IMF’s approach to land investment, but it adds, “is called land grabbing by critics but can be used for a ‘win-win’ situation.” (ibid)  It refers to investing in the land.

When carefully Looking into all of that, an important and central observation associated with the ‘Land Grabbing’ activity, which is neglected by the definitions mentioned so far, does reveal. An observation that can be summed up in the following question, what position that human rights issues would hold in these terms or definitions?, or in another way what is the position these terms or definitions would take towards human rights issues that associated with an investment in ‘land Grabbing’ practiced by developed countries in developing or underdeveloped countries?!. The answer was, “These alternative terms are weak and misleading alternatives to ‘land grabbing’ and are used to minimize human rights impacts and responsibility.” (ibid)

In this regard, some researchers have been more specific and eloquent in referring to the negative aspects of the phenomenon and its disastrous consequences. For example, Shambhu Ghatak wrote that “The term ‘land grabs’ has been used (in this study) not as a reference to their illegality however since many of the deals have passed government approvals, but as a description of the unjust terms through which they have been transacted and the utter lack of consultation with the communities of farmers and indigenous peoples.” (Shambhu Ghatak, on FAO site)  The most obvious and suitable example of this is the decision to sell land in the Gezira Agricultural Scheme in Sudan, where was secretly taken by the Board of Directors, and subsequently annulled by the Administrative Appeals Court on January 11, 2012, in the City of Wad Medani.

In a broader and more detailed reference, the same author said, “The increased tendency of the poor countries to allow land acquisition has adversely affected the right to food and right to self-determination and the exploitation of natural resources of the local communities. Potential impacts include the eviction of land users who have no formal security of tenure over the land they have been cultivating for decades; the loss of access to land for indigenous peoples and pastoral populations, competition for water resources and decreased food security if local populations are deprived of access to productive resources. The report has, therefore, recommended for the participation of local communities in such land negotiations to ensure transparency.” (ibid)

 The lack of transparency in ‘Land Grabbing’ deals is necessitated by the very terms and nature of those deals. The conditions and terms of those deals are mostly put the ruling regimes against their people, nevertheless, those regimes were already preoccupied with the intentions to do so, but they do not disclose that. Here, we would cite, as an example, the agreement between Sudan and Turkey, upon which an agricultural cooperative corporation was to be established. And that was in April 2014, which was published in the Turkish Official Gazette on November 19, 2015, where Turkish companies would lease agricultural land in six areas of Sudan, covering an area of 793,000 hectares (equivalent to 1,942,850 acres, equivalent to approximately 90% of the Gezira Agricultural Scheme area). It will be a 99-year lease. But what is most important and related to the exclusion of citizens from matters of their land, as well as the lack of transparency, is that Sudan will be “responsible for protecting the territorial integrity of the leased land and considering potential legal issues that may be raised by third parties claiming the right to land, as well as the security of farmers and workers.” (Albawaba Site) Of course, the farmers and workers of foreign companies are farmers and workers here!

What is worth noting in dealing with the phenomenon of ‘Land Grabbing’, is that the forces behind it are not only made up of foreign investors and governments but also include local investors as well as individuals from the private sector. Highlighting this feature is very important because it applies broadly to the situation of “land grabbing” that has taken place in Sudan, and what is striking in the Sudanese case now is that local investors and the private sector are represented by new social forces that have been produced and associated with the central state. These new forces or classes were precisely comprised of the Islamic Parasitic Capitalists (IPC), which its equivalent in Arabic is (RATAS), and of its forerunners Islamic capitalist elites too. We will deliberately investigate the phenomenon of this parasitic class later.

The definition that contains this aspect of the phenomenon of ‘Land Grabbing’ along with other features was put forward by one of the concerned organizations, which was known for defending the rights of farmers and peasants, whether at the local or international level. That organization is Eco Ruralis, based in the Republic of Romania. It has not only made a theoretical contribution but has taken practical steps in battling the phenomenon of ‘Land Grabbing’. Its definition of the phenomenon comes as follows: 

“Land grabbing can be defined as being the control (whether through ownership, lease, concession, contracts, quotas, or general power) of larger than locally-typical amounts of land by any person or entity (public or private, foreign or domestic) via any means (‘legal’ or ‘illegal’) for purposes of speculation, extraction, resource control or commodification at the expense of peasant farmers, agroecology, land stewardship, food sovereignty, and human rights.” ( Katelyn Baker-Smith, et al: 2016)

It is nothing less than an agreement with this objective and comprehensive definition, which can be considered very accurate in terms of political economy.

Some Marginalized Groups Under Harm

In addition to what has been mentioned by various definitions about the negative consequences of ‘Land Grabbing’ practices in developing and/or underdeveloped countries, whether, by foreign or domestic investors, there are three social groups or communities that were actually at risk of direct damaging impacts to the spread of this phenomenon, that many researchers have referred to. These communities are:

First, the community of small farmers, whose landownership form, which is the form of smallholdings, contrasts with the form of landownership enjoyed by investors, which is the form of large holdings and large projects, and in this regard, for example, there are only eight countries, namely China, UAE, South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Syria own agricultural projects in Sudan with an area of nearly 2 million acres, it is 1,870,000 acres. (Yasin Elhadary, Hillo Abdelatti: 2017)

This is an area approximately the size of the Gezira Agricultural Scheme.

The continuous onslaught of investors on land threatens to get small farmers out of agricultural activity and to end up becoming agricultural workers instead, on the land they once owned.

Second, the community of women, as is known and generally known, that women don’t enjoy the right to own land as their male counterparts in developing and underdeveloped countries. This is because neither state governments nor investors take into account women’s rights in the land, at the time of the implementation of ‘Land Grabbing’ deals and when signing their contracts among themselves. In most of the cases that were carried out under collusion between investors and ruling regimes represented by own executives! “The other experiment that played by the Chinese had happened in the State of Gambia, in West Africa.

Where the Chinese came in 1975 under the pretext of developing rice cultivation! The Chinese and the Government of Gambia have united against the people and more precisely against an important sector of the Gambian community, against the women’s sector, where they have been denied ownership of land under the said development project, and thus deprived of all benefits related to loans and financial assistance, although women in the Gambia had the greatest burden in agricultural work. In the final analysis, this deprivation of women was one of the reasons why the project collapsed only five years after it began.” (Deborah Brautigam: 2013)

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