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Farm Radio Weekly is a news and information service for rural radio broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by Farm Radio International.

Issue #197

Land grabs put farmers at risk across Africa

The international farmers’ organization La Via Campesina has designated April 17 as the International Day of Peasant Struggle. The day aims to raise awareness of the rights of small-scale farmers around the world. A principal right is the right to land.

Three of this week’s four stories deal with “land grabs,” which are in many cases violations of farmers’ land rights. Our first story is from Burkina Faso and tells how land owned by small-scale farmers is being granted to influential “Sunday farmers.” The government gambled that encouraging investors to create large modern farms would help achieve food self-sufficiency. But few large land owners are even using their new land for farming, and smaller farmers are increasingly locked out of the land market.

Our second story comes from Liberia, where the government has signed a long-term land lease with a multinational mining company. The deal has resulted in thousands of local farmers being resettled. Earlier this year, the farmers escalated their protests at what they claim are unmet promises related to housing, access to water, local hiring, and other issues.

Our third and last “land grab” story comes from Tanzania. Criticisms of a long-term land lease between the Tanzanian government and an American firm have caused one of the key partners, Iowa State University, to back out of the deal. Critics have pointed to a lack of consultation with local people, and argued that the deal will not create local jobs, and will result in local farmers becoming sharecroppers or plantation workers at best.

Our last story comes from Congo-Brazzaville, where the government has introduced a policy to sell agricultural produce by weight, rather than by heap, cup or bowl. Farmers are happy with higher prices for their produce. But consumers must pay more, and traders are caught in the middle.

This week’s Action section highlights a Canadian children’s magazine’s adaptation of a Farm Radio International script for a younger audience. The magazine also includes a profile of Farm Radio International’s founder, George Atkins.

Happy reading!

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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Burkina Faso: Small-scale farmers lose land to local ‘investors’ (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

Néboun is a village 130 kilometres south of Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou. Adamou Nignan is a famous man in Néboun. He is a farmer, the town crier and a jack of all trades at the village dispensary. Yet it is not his activities that make him well-known. It is rather because of what he represents. Mr. Nignan was one of the first victims of land grabbing in this region.

Everyone knows his sad story. Traditional chiefs that manage land took his farm and gave it to a senior official who lives in Ouagadougou. Mr. Adamou remembers, “In 1997, my land was given [away] … without me receiving the least compensation. Nobody cared to know what would become of me.”

That was the beginning of Mr. Nignan’s misfortunes. Now “landless,” he started working at the village dispensary and then became town crier. But his income wasn’t enough to feed his family of five. His wife and children left him. Faced with this tragedy, his father gave him three hectares of land on which he planted mango trees. Mr. Nignan harvested just the minimum needed to live.

Ministers, MPs, senior officials and powerful traders in search of land are abundant in Néboun. These “Sunday farmers” use their prestige to demand large pieces of land. Moussa Nignan is the village chief. He says, “When an important man comes to ask for land, it is an honour for the whole village. To refuse would be an insult!”

Taking advantage of their influence, some politicians have been granted farms of up to 300 hectares by village heads. They promise to use their influence to establish clinics and schools in the villages. But very few keep their promises.

Others prefer to exploit young people greedy for money. In exchange for a few thousand francs, politicians receive large pieces of land. The young people use the money to buy big motorbikes and take other wives.

Ousmane Nignan is the son of Néboun’s chief. He sold eight hectares of family property without the knowledge of his father. He remembers, “I sold 20 hectares for 300,000 FCFA [about $600 U.S]. I wanted to use the money to build a modern cinderblock house. But I have not managed to do so.” Ashamed, he adds, “I used the money to party. I regret it now.”

This unregulated granting and selling of land started in the 2000s following the State’s decision to promote agribusiness. The government invited those with money to invest in agriculture by creating large modern farms. The State hoped this would help achieve short-term food self-sufficiency. But unfortunately, buyers have locked up a lot of farmland. They do not use the land, and small farmers have no access to it.

It is unclear what most of these well-off investors do with their new land. But in Adamou Nignan’s case, the official who took his land actually used it to plant fruit trees and cereals. While many powerful people end up possessing hundreds of hectares of land, this official has only about 10 hectares.

Yacouba Diakité is mayor of the neighbouring town of Leo. To fight against land grabbing, he refuses to prepare documents for land sales over 10 hectares. He also educates chiefs not to sell land. But he faces powerful pressure. He explains, “When you argue for limiting land sales, you take pressure from powerful people. What can one little mayor like me do against them?”

Adamou Nignan also feels powerless. For the time being, landless farmers have nowhere to turn for help. He says he does not know if he will ever recover his land. He says, “My life is shattered. And we are many in this situation. I have agreed to talk about my situation because I hope that maybe my story will get the authorities to respond.”

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Liberia: Land deals with foreign firms ‘could be sowing the seeds of future conflict’ (AllAfrica, Guardian)

Villagers and town residents in northwestern Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount County are trying to recover land they claim was seized from them and turned over to a Malaysian company.

In January, the people’s political representatives sent a petition to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demanding the return of their land.

May Freeman is a 42-year-old woman from Sinje Town. She said, “This is unbearable. Our government must care for us and don’t allow these people to kill us silently … This land belongs to us. We were born here and we give birth to our children here too. This is the only place we know.”

Pa Sando is the town chief of Konja. Looking out across farmland, he says, “I used to pick cocoa on this farm for more than 30 years. My grandfather planted it for us. All this area here was mine, and now it’s all gone.”

Mr. Sando said he was never asked whether he wanted to give up his land. He saw bulldozers in the bush and then his land was taken.

Much of rural Liberia’s population lives on land that has been in the family for generations. Most can’t afford the complicated process of acquiring land deeds, and under Liberian law the government owns all public land. Mr. Sando’s land was not registered, and therefore it belonged to the government.

Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Inc. is owned by the Malaysian-based multinational Sime Darby. In April 2010, the government granted the company a permit to cultivate 10,000 hectares of palm oil in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties. The land was leased for 63 years. The company has since applied for an additional 15,000 hectares in Grand Cape Mount County, and another 20,000 hectares in Gbarpolu County.

Residents of the village of Singhiam are quick to explain what the problems are, and where they feel the government and company have failed in their promises to provide jobs for local people and not to harm local agriculture. Their main grievance is lost livelihoods. Farmer Fakaomoh Touray explains, “There is no work here now. Everybody is just sitting down. It’s no joke. That’s why you see people running to Madina for meeting after meeting. They have got no food here.”

Villagers pointed disdainfully at a block containing four latrines, arguing this has been one of the few concrete benefits from the company’s presence.

In January, an article in The New York Times, published just four days after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s inauguration, warned that the new government “may now be sowing the seeds of future conflict by handing over huge tracts of land to foreign investors and dispossessing rural Liberians.”

The President reacted immediately to Grand Cape Mount County concerns by visiting the area and meeting residents. She admitted the government should have gone about the negotiations differently. However, she told residents that when government signs documents with foreign companies, these cannot be changed.

Sime Darby has strongly denied the charges made against it. Company statements have stressed its commitment to sustainable agriculture and “regular and direct engagement with communities, adherence to national laws and regulations, environmental stewardship and the use of best agricultural practices.” The company argues that its Liberian concession area “is mostly abandoned agricultural land neglected during the civil wars, and degraded forests.”

Helmy Basha is Sime Darby’s plantation senior vice-president of the agribusiness division. He says, “For the next 15 years, we’re scheduled to invest in infrastructure like roads, bridges, electricity and piped water. We’ll also put up the mills.”

Liberia has signed natural resource deals with foreign investors which amount to a projected value of $19 billion. According to a report from Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution, an official from the Ministry of Planning said these deals cover almost half of the country’s total land area.

In Grand Cape Mount, Mr. Sando points to an area that used to be rich marshland full of mangroves. It is now filled with dirt, ready for the planting of more palm trees. Villagers are left with nowhere to fish or plant rice. Without the swamps, homes were flooded in the rainy season, and the only creek has almost dried up.

Farmers have been compensated, but the compensation generally covers only one harvest. Fatu Kamara said she was given $200 U.S. for the land she grew cassava on – just $3 for every year Sime Darby occupies it.

Here are some news stories related to the Liberian story on land investment:

-Liberia: The Plantation Blues http://allafrica.com/stories/201203010084.html

-Liberia: Land grab or development opportunity? http://allafrica.com/stories/201202171018.html

– Liberian land deals with foreign firms ‘could sow seeds of conflict’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/29/liberia-land-deals-could-seed-conflict

Here is a photo essay on the Sime Darby mining controversy in Liberia: Photo essay: http://allafrica.com/view/photoessay/post/post/id/201202290002.html

Here is the report referred to in the Liberian story: Center for International Conflict Resolution, 2012. “Smell-No-Taste”: The Social Impact of Foreign Direct Investment in Liberia. http://www.cicr-columbia.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Smell-No-Taste.pdf

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Tanzania: Land deal loses key partner but communities still under threat of eviction (Oakland Institute, Pambazuka, IPP Media)

An American energy company is poised to secure a 99-year lease on more than 320,000 hectares of land in western Tanzania. The company, AgriSol Energy, is proposing a ten-year investment in the Kigoma region. It intends to develop the huge tract of land for large-scale crop cultivation, as well as biofuel and animal production. But because of international pressure, the deal has now lost one crucial partner, Iowa State University.

According to AgriSol, the goal of this project was to, “Develop a new private/public/academic partnership model that combines large-scale, commercial farming with local outreach and outgrower programs for small landowners.” Mr. Iddi Simba is Chairman of Serengeti Advisers, a Tanzanian investment firm working with AgriSol. He says, “We will work with government and private businesses to develop and expand local markets and improve food distribution within the country.”

But the land in question has served as a resettlement area for Burundian refugees since 1972. It is home to more than 160,000 people and their farms. The area would have to be evacuated before Agrisol could use the land for agriculture. When this situation was uncovered by the Oakland Institute in 2011, there was an international outcry and denouncement of the scheme as land-grabbing. Agrisol and their partners have come under pressure and scrutiny.

Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute. She says, “This land has been feeding many families. The proposed large-scale commercial agriculture is mechanized − it does not create jobs for these small-holder farmers … At best some might become sharecroppers, some might become plantation workers, at most. But it’s going to deny them food security.”

In February, Iowa State University announced that it had backed out of its role as agricultural adviser to the project. The University entered the deal with the aim of assisting small-scale farmers. But Iowa State University said it has become tired of defending its role in the African project and its partnership with AgriSol Energy.

Babu Pascal Steven is head of the youth department at the Kigoma Vijana Development Association. He had been running a youth agricultural project in the area but stopped due to lack of funds. Mr. Steven says that Kigoma has plenty of natural resources, and has in recent years been invaded by investors who make deals without involvement of the locals. He continues, “We also learned about the investment in media and in Parliament. Otherwise, we know nothing.”

The Oakland Institute credited campus and media activism for the turnaround at the university. Ms. Mittal says, “I sincerely hope we can keep the pressure on and have a just outcome.” But for now, AgriSol intends to continue with its plans.

For further reading on this issue and other land stories in Tanzania, please visit:

Tanzania land grab stories and information:



More on this story:





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Congo-Brazzaville: New policy of selling by weight pits farmers against traders and consumers (by John Ndinga-Ngoma for Farm Radio Weekly in Congo – Brazzaville)

Many market traders still sell by the heap, the cup or the bowl. However, in Pointe-Noire, in southern Congo-Brazzaville, agricultural products are now bought and sold by the kilogram.

Rachel Matouadi farms in Pointe-Noire. She says that, when selling products by the kilo, she earns more than when they are sold by the heap. A bowl of fresh tomatoes usually sells for 12,000 CFA francs (about US$24). But as Ms. Matouadi says, “A bowl can hold more than 26 kilos. So, at a rate of 800 CFA francs per kilo, I should charge at least 21,600 CFA francs. That’s why I prefer to sell by weight rather than by heap.”

Last August, at Pointe-Noire’s 26th International Fair, the Ministry of Trade and Supply introduced the use of the weigh scale to the marketing of agricultural products. The policy aimed to ensure a fair deal for consumers, producers, buyers and sellers. It was well-received by farmers in Pointe-Noire, the economic capital of Congo.

Marie Andree Ngouamba is also a farmer. She believes that scales are an effective tool for managing and selling her products: “When I sell by the bowl, I make a loss. I cannot even recover the capital I invested. When I use the scale, I can already foresee that I will win. And I can plan my budget.” She attended a seminar to learn how to sell by the kilo and plan her marketing activities.

Despite the advantages for farmers, traders in Pointe-Noire are not keen on the new system. Dominique Wamono is a market gardener. She struggles to sell her produce to traders by weight. She says, “They [traders] do not like the scale. And they threaten to buy from other farmers. Right now, you are obliged to yield to their desire to sell by bowl, as we cannot keep products which will eventually perish.”

The traders feel their stance is justified. Adele Ndoulou is a vendor at a small neighbourhood market . She says, “When I tried to sell by the kilo, customers started to turn their backs, because they associate this new practice with price increases. That’s why I quickly returned to selling by the heap.”

This argument rings true with consumers. Prisca Mankou is a teacher and housekeeper. She says, “Assume you have 2000 CFA francs. If you have to buy a kilo of tomatoes for 1000 CFA … and a kilo of eggplants at the same price, what remains in the wallet? Nothing! This means that governments have only made the rising cost of living worse.” She says that even buying a half kilo does not solve the issue.

For many farmers, the establishment of the selling-by-weight scheme should act as a buffer against the low selling prices of agricultural products. But for production to increase, farmers need support. John Gilbert Kaya is president of The Green Hand, an association of growers. He says, “Selling by the kilo allows us farmers to achieve acceptable profits. But the consumer needs to know that, by buying per kilo, they gain more than they lose when buying by bowl.” He believes that selling by the kilo is the right solution, as it reduces price fluctuations.

Selling by kilo is not a law; it is only a policy. The government’s aim was for producers, traders, and consumers to be satisfied with food prices. It wanted to reduce speculation in the marketing of agricultural products, so that nobody would feel cheated. But the range of opinions from farmers, traders and consumers show that such a complicated issue cannot be solved by a weigh scale alone. The consequences and implications of what seemed like a simple intervention are many and varied.

Rachel Matouadi adds, “For just one person to benefit is not always good. Prices should suit farmers, traders and consumers. That is what we call green prices.”

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Notes to Broadcasters on land

The issue of land generates much debate, passion and opinion because it is so important to farmers. Put simply, for farmers, land means life. It means your history, your heritage, but also your future. For small-scale farmers in Africa, whose lives are so intertwined with the land they live and work on, land is key to survival and progress.

Recent large-scale acquisitions of farmland by foreign investors have attracted much attention in the global media. According to the Oakland Institute (see below), in 2009, 16 million hectares of land were leased or purchased in developing countries, 75% in Africa. Some observers see this as much-needed investment in the agricultural sector. But for many, these deals simply remove farmers from land that is rightfully theirs – hence the often-used term “land grabbing.” Farmers have little legal comeback. Traditional land inheritance laws and customs may be at odds with government policy or law, and many farmers do not have paperwork to prove land ownership. Even when they do, they face powerful opponents in large foreign investors. Women farmers are often at a further disadvantage – in many countries it is still rare for women to own land, or inherit their husband’s land.

When access or title to land is threatened, farmers’ livelihoods are at stake. One option for broadcasters and development staff is to try to make farmer’s voices and experiences heard. This issue, dedicated to marking the International Day of Peasant Struggle, contributes in a small way to bringing farmers’ concerns about land to a wider audience. We hope you will add to this effort by broadcasting some of these stories, or similar stories from your country.

Here are some key websites you can refer to find out more about current issues and news related to land:

http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/land-rights-issue − The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank, researching and promoting debate on key environmental, social and economic issues. It has done extensive research on the purchase and lease of land from developing countries by wealthier nations and international private investors. The Institute aims to increase transparency about land deals. They document impacts on farmers, and the long-term impact on development in several African countries.

http://farmlandgrab.org − This website gathers news reports in various languages about “land grabs,” which they define as “the global rush to buy up or lease farmlands abroad as a strategy to secure basic food supplies or simply for profit.” It is a comprehensive resource for social activists, non-government organizations and journalists. It is updated daily. You can subscribe by weekly email or through an RSS feed.

http://www.landcoalition.org/ − The international Land Coalition is an alliance of organizations who work together to promote secure and equitable access to and control over land for poor women and men. On this site, you can find news from Africa, background documents on land, and links to many related websites.

http://landportal.info/ − This is an online community for people interested in land governance issues. You can join, access information, and interact with other users.

Listen to a recent BBC World Service debate entitled: “Is land grabbing good for Africa?” In the debate, speakers and farmers discuss the potential benefits and disadvantages of large-scale land lease by international companies in Africa, including a recent case in Sierra Leone:


Many international NGOs also campaign on the issue of land. In September 2011, Oxfam released a report examining some key cases of land investments, with case studies from Uganda and Sudan: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/land-and-power-the-growing-scandal-surrounding-the-new-wave-of-investments-in-l-142858

Since the Oxfam report was released, the United Nations has finalized and proposed a set of voluntary guidelines on land governance. See this report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/mar/14/negotiators-consensus-global-land-governance-guidelines

The UN guidelines will be presented to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (http://www.fao.org/cfs/cfs-home/cfs-about/en/) in May 2012. The guidelines can be viewed here (40 page pdf document): http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/nr/land_tenure/pdf/VG_en_Final_March_2012.pdf

Farm Radio International has produced a variety of resources on land. Here are some highlights:

-In November 2010, Farm Radio Weekly ran a series of stories, reporting on an IDRC research program on women and access to land (http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/09/20/farm-radio-weekly-freelancers-cover-idrc-symposium-on-women%E2%80%99s-land-rights-in-nairobi-kenya/). Browse the stories here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/11/

Access a specially commissioned script on women’s land rights here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/12/20/women%E2%80%99s-right-to-land-is-necessary-for-community-development/

See our script of the week section for another script on land rights.

These resources, stories and scripts may inspire you to research a story on land in your local area. Land is a broad topic, and it will help your research and planning if you choose a focus. For example, you could examine land ownership issues: Are there any by-laws which govern land ownership or inheritance? Do these contradict or are they different from traditional rules? How do the two systems interact? How do both systems affect women?

Is it common for farmers in your area to own land, or are they more often tenants? How does this affect their daily lives and the decisions they make?

Try to get a variety of views and quotes from men and women farmers, government officials and any local advocacy organizations.

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Notes to broadcasters on selling by the kilo

Along roadsides in most countries in Africa, farmers and traders sell pyramids of tomatoes, string bags of onions or oranges, or bowls of beans or flour. Selecting the best-looking produce at the best price takes time and good bargaining powers. But farmers may be short-changed with this method of pricing, which rather haphazardly puts a price on their produce and their labour. Selling produce by weight may be more likely to give farmers a fairer price, but is a big change for traders and buyers.

You might like to browse our archive of scripts on small-scale enterprise, which include scripts on financial management for farmers, how supply and demand affect prices, and choosing where to sell: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/enterprise.asp

Does this story ring true in your broadcast region? How common is it for farmers to sell by the heap, or by the kilo? You could investigate what difference this would make to the prices charged and to farmers’ incomes. If it is common to sell by the heap, ask farmers and consumers if they think it is fairer to sell by the kilo – and why.

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Radio for Peacebuilding Africa Awards 2012

The RFPA Awards recognize radio programs that best contribute to peace in Africa. The Awards specifically celebrate radio programs that help to reduce group and community tensions, enhance and give value to shared interests, break down listeners’ stereotypes, or provide positive role models.

The 2012 Awards are open to all African radio broadcasters, both men and women. Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: RFPA Gender Award; RFPA Youth Award; and RFPA Jury’s Special Award. Three prizes will be awarded in each category. The first prize is 600 Euros, the second 300 Euros, and the third 150 Euros. Winners will be honoured at an award ceremony.

Submissions can be in any language spoken on the African continent, but must be accompanied by a translation in either English or French. Radio programs must have been broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2011, and must be at least 20 minutes long. You can submit more than one entry, but please submit each separately.

Send your submissions to rfpa@sfcg.org or by mail to any SFCG Africa Country Office (list available at http://www.sfcg.org/sfcg/sfcg_world.html), or SFCG’s Brussels Office.

All entries must be received by May 11, 2012.

Previous winning entries are available for listening and download from the audio section of the RFPA website at www.radiopeaceafrica.org

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FRI featured in children’s magazine

The history and work of Farm Radio International was recently featured in a Canadian children’s magazine. The magazine is called KAYAK. It is Canada’s History Society’s magazine for young readers, aimed at children between 7 and 12. The issue which features Farm Radio International focuses on how Canada has worked and helped in communities across the world, and is called “Better World.”

One of our scripts (on sack farming) was adapted and made into a story. The next page in the magazine tells the story of Farm Radio International’s founder, George Atkins. At the following link on Canada History Society’s website, you can see a video interview with Louise Atkins, George’s daughter, and see more photos of George Atkins: http://www.canadashistory.ca/Education/The-New-Digital-History-Education-(2)/The-New-Digital-History-Education-(1).aspx

Twenty thousand copies of the magazine were distributed to schools across Canada. You can read it using these links:



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Why Women Need to Know about Land Rights

This week’s script is a 17-year-old piece that is still relevant today. “Why Women Need to Know about Land Rights” touches on many of the most important issues related to women and land ownership. It provides valuable advice to women and men on how to navigate the sometimes intimidating and confusing issues surrounding land rights. Broadcasters who are interested in producing programs on land rights, or just knowing more about the issue, will benefit from checking out this thought-provoking script.


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