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Set down the rules.

Last month's cover story ('Land sell-off: Boon or curse for Africa?', African Business, December 2009 issue) did great justice to one of the biggest questions facing Africa as it grapples with the problem of feeding its growing population in the coming decades. At the heart of this question is the issue of how we can from enough food for ourselves in future years and whether we should be allowing out land to be exploited by commercial farmers, particularly commercial farmers who are not citizens of those countries where underutilised lands that are most suitable for development are found.

My own opinion is that we should avoid the trap that Zimbabwe fell into--allowing settler farmers to actually hold title to land. Land ownership should be held by the nation in perpetuity and for the good of the nation. But this is not to argue that settler farmers, whether from other African countries or from foreign lands, should not be able to cultivate African land. Rather, my suggestion would be that they should be encouraged to set up commercial operations and given access to enough areas of arable land to ensure economies of scale, but under strict conditions.

Those conditions should include not transfers of ownership but rolling leasehold contracts for set time frames of say 15-20 years' duration, at the end of which either party could terminate the agreement. Commitments from the farmers in terms of offering the host country employment opportunities and knowledge transfer; strict productivity targets assessed on the land's potential fertility and water resources and a guarantee that local demand will be met before exports are permitted would also be necessary.

Clearly, these are tough conditionalities, but if African governments are prepared to negotiate hard and be ready to allow the commercial farmers the opportunity to make a fair return on their labour, inputs and expertise, I believe Africa's food needs could be met without recourse to overseas aid and the continent's agricultural sector would flourish.


James Kabwe

Lusaka, Zambia

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Author:Kabwe, James
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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