With the publication of an alarming report by the international non-governmental organisation (NGO) GRAIN,1 entitled ‘Seized! The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Financial Security’, a new topic has come to the fore of public and international attention: international investments in and acquisitions of land by foreign investors, primarily in Africa (GRAIN 2008). While hard data is largely unavailable at this point, the Washington, DC-based

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has estimated that these deals, located mainly in Africa, totalled US$20 billion to US$30 billion between 2006 and 2009 and were made by foreign investors from China, South Korea, India and the Gulf States (Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates) (Von Braun and Meinzen-Dick 2009). Increasing scarcity of land and water as well as export restrictions (e.g. export taxes, export bans)2 by major global food producers3 during times of high food prices have resulted in a ‘growing distrust in the functioning of regional and global markets’ (Von Braun and Meinzen-Dick 2009: 1). Land deals have become a national security strategy for states facing environmental scarcity or preparing for future energy shortages. At the same time, the increase in agricultural commodity prices in 2007-084

increasingly attracted private companies (agrifood business, bioenergy corporations, investment funds) and/or government-private sector arrangements to invest in land acquisitions in times of financial crisis. These developments come at a time when most sub-Saharan African countries

are still trying to come to terms with a land crisis involving a number of obstacles and challenges, such as their colonial legacy, structural inequality, land tenure insecurity, communal impoverishment, and environmental stress. Since the end of colonialism in much of Africa in the 1950s and 1960s and demise of Apartheid in South Africa in 1994, land reforms have been at the very core of southern African societies’ aspirations towards democratisation and socio-economic reconstitution. Definitively, international investments in land are nothing new.5 It is, however,

the massive scale of the new investments in and acquisitions of land at a time of a global triple crisis (in form of food, energy and financial insecurity), together with the prevalent problem of land tenure insecurity in most ‘recipient’ countries,

which calls for greater scrutiny of why and how these investments and land deals are taking place, and what their local6 and global repercussions might resemble. In the southern African region alone, deals have mushroomed on an unprecedented

scale. In 2008, China signed a US$800 million investment deal with the government of Mozambique that aims to increase rice production from 100,000 t to 500,000 t.7 There has been significant local opposition to the deal. Another 100,000 ha were acquired by the Swedish bio energy company Skebab for biofuel crops. Additionally, the British Sun Biofuels company secured land (size unknown) in Mozambique (in 2008-09) for the production of similar crops. In Zambia, an inquiry was placed by China over 2 million ha for biofuel crops. In Tanzania, the Chinese Chongqing Seed Corporation leased 300 ha for rice production; and British corporations CAMS Group and Sun Biofuels secured 45,000 ha and 5,500 ha respectively for biofuel production in 2008-09.8

Meanwhile, in Madagascar, a 1.3 million ha deal for US$6 billion by the South Korean Daewoo Logistics Corporation for corn and palm oil production was discontinued in March 2009 after the collapse of the government under President Marc Ravalomanana. In fact, the Daewoo land deal had fuelled public protests over insecure land rights and worsening living conditions, and strengthened the position of President Ravalomanana’s political rival and opposition leader, Mr. Andry Rajoelina. Mr. Rajoelina was a leading figure in a political crisis, which started out as several anti-government demonstrations in January 2009, and then – with the support of the military – yielded the accession of Andry Rajoelina to the presidency. Upon his assumption of the presidential office in March 2009, Rajoelina proclaimed the land deal unconstitutional.9