Africa must hold on to its land, says Ndungane

FOREIGN ownership of large tracts of land in Africa hit the spotlight yesterday at a high-profile meeting on hunger and spiralling food prices, held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum due to begin in Cape Town today.

China, South Korea and Qatar have "rushed" to lease large tracts of land in Africa. And this has not gone down well with some people.

"Their strategy is to produce food that can be exported to ensure their own food security, and boost their own earnings," Warren Nyamugasira of African Monitor said yesterday.

Former archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane said foreign ownership of land might result in crops being grown for export, rather than to feed hungry locals.

He told Sowetan that Africa must hold on to its land. Foreign firms should only be able to lease or buy agricultural land if "there is a shared understanding to benefit the people of Africa and people in other parts of the world".

"It should not be about exploitation of Africa's land but rather a win-win situation," Ndungane said.

Foreign ownership of land has come under fire from local land rights groups. They say valuable agricultural land is being turned into water-wasting golf estates that only benefit the rich.

Ndungane also hit out at politicians, saying: "My friends sometimes manipulate the availability and price of basic commodities to advance or win elections." He said the "invisible hand of the market" would not help Africa get out of the food shortage "mess" it was in.