The Great Land Rush Why Poverty?


The Great Land Rush

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Hungry and angry, another food riot breaks out on the streets of Algeria.

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The world food crisis is growing.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures,

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and for the millions of people around the world struggling to buy

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the most basic of foodstuffs, these are desperate times.

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The image of troops at rice distribution centres is

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fast becoming a regular sight in Asia.

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Rich countries are racing to buy and lease agricultural land abroad

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and secure their food supplies for the future.

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Africa, known for its fertile land and low-priced agricultural

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real estate has become the target of wealthy investors.

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The first generation of land grab was called colonisation.

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We've been through that.

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Today, we must learn that deals can be structured,

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really in a way that they benefit the local communities

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but also the investors.

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Those investors, our private sector partners that are going out

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and doing the straight land grabbing.

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Fully mechanising and not in any way bringing in small growers or

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community, you might as well put yourself on death row.

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The project will not last. Socially, it will not last.

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I mean, this is a classic problem across the whole continent

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in different versions.

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Clarity of land, who has land, who doesn't, how do you negotiate?

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We've moved away from not talking about it.

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We now have to move to actually being able to do it.

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Africa has a very critical asset for food production,

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for the global community.

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Nearly 60% of the arable land worldwide that's available

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today is in Africa.

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And it's estimated that near half of hungry people are also farmers.

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So farmers are not producing enough to eat.

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First works?

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The first office block.

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50 offices and dining rooms, two places for prayers.

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So this is actually centred where the fields will be

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when we develop them.

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This will be almost centred

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because it occupies an area quite west of the centre.

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It is fabulous.

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-Finally.

-HE LAUGHS

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-Finally something.

-Finally something, yes.

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Finally, the beginning.

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Mima Nedelcovych is an American agricultural developer

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who has built sugar plantations all over Africa.

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Now, Mima is finalising plans for a vast industrial sugar operation

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in the centre of Mali, one of Africa's poorest nations.

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If successful, his plan - known as the Markala Sugar Project or

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Sosumar - promises to kick-start the industrialisation of Mali's economy.

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Sosumar intends to lease 200-sq-KM from the Malian government

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in the country's most fertile farming region,

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the Office du Niger, for a plantation and factory.

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The plan, to build 200 sugar pivots,

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means that thousands of local families,

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many of whom have farmed here for generations, will lose their land.

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When Sosumar takes control of the land, Mima is asking these

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displaced farmers to become contracted sugarcane growers,

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each one cultivating a small portion of the vast plantation.

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The innovative part of the project is that we're very much

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looking at a core operation with small independent out-growers.

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The beauty of this, if you will, is creating a whole series

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of independent farmers around us.

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So as we develop 70 hectare of pivots

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so will be six-seven families or so that will tend to those 70 hectares.

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We're actually creating a new class of commercial farmers

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that will grow out over time.

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The independent small grower out here with his millet.

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The family with their one or two hectares.

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They're living here the way they did,

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the same families, 300 years ago. There's no change.

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By bringing it into larger schemes and value-added production,

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you're bringing the small farmer into the value chain.

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It's giving them a reason to produce more than what they eat.

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Agriculture is a culture. It's a way of life.

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And every time you change a way of life,

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you create uncertainty about the distribution of benefits and risks.

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And so these debates are an integral part of changing any cultural system.

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THEY LAUGH

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Mima's involvement with Sosumar

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began well before the world food crisis.

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The Malian government approached him in 2000

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with the goal of transforming Mali into a sugar-exporting nation.

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We initially identified, if you will, the project,

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conceptually speaking, a little over ten years ago now.

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Beginning in 2000.

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It's a complex public-private project

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and it is a first of its kind in the size that it is,

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so getting all the pieces in place in Mali takes longer.

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It's more difficult.

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Sosumar is now a 600 million partnership between the

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Government of Mali, Mima's Louisiana-based consulting firm,

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and Africa's largest sugar producer, Illovo Sugar from South Africa.

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It is financed by 17 lenders including

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the African Development Bank, the South Korean Export-Import bank,

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and the Saudi-based Islamic Finance Corporation.

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-Nick, how are you?

-Good to see you.

-Nice to see you.

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Although construction work at the factory site has begun,

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the complex package of loan agreements is yet to be

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ratified by the Malian Government.

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Until everything is finalised, Mima and his partners are paying

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for rising costs out of their own pockets.

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I think by way of introduction, there has been progress on many

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aspects of the project since the board last met in May.

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But really we're not moving as fast as the Sosumar board had expected.

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If we can clear out all of the remaining issues,

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it will allow the African Development Bank to conduct its project launch.

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OK, just a quick update.

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As of the 31st of October, our total spend is 16.8 million.

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And this was primarily because of the increased ramp up

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in spending in the current ten months.

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OK. All right.

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One of the problems that plague peasant societies,

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smallholder societies, is that peasants don't own their land.

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They date from a time when there was no land ownership.

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So when you have people who belong to this vastly different

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kind of land regime,

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they're vulnerable to any force of the state or a company that

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can come in and literally pull the resources out from under their feet.

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The question is, who owns Africa, who owns the land?

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Is it the people of Africa,

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the ordinary farmers who own the land, or is it their governments?

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Only about 10% of Africa is under European-type entitlement.

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So that means 90% of the land belongs to who?

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The Office du Niger farming region is

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the creation of the French colonial regime, dating from the 1930s.

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To grow rice and cotton for their empire,

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the colonisers seized millions of hectares.

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They dammed the Niger River,

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and cleared the land for industrial farming.

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Ibrahima Coulibaly is the head of the Malian Farmers Union,

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and an architect of the Global Food Sovereignty movement.

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Until 2008, Ibrahima had spent his career working with

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the Malian government to improve its agriculture policy.

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After years of Ibrahima's lobbying,

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Mali became one of the first countries in the world to adopt

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Food Sovereignty as government policy, in 2006.

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When the world food crisis struck in 2008,

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Ibrahima saw his role transformed.

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AUDIENCE APPLAUD

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As the government began leasing land to foreign investors

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like the Libyans, Chinese, Ukrainians, Saudi Arabians

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and Senegalese, Ibrahima dedicated himself to fighting

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the violence and abuse that accompanied their arrival.

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Sosumar has polarised opinion between the many

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villages in this area.

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Often less than a kilometre apart, some villages wholeheartedly

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support Sosumar, while others are staunchly opposed.

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For us, it's clear the community, the local population must buy in.

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So we have been spending a lot of time with the local population.

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Both the village elders, the chiefs

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to envision what this place could become.

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When Sosumar does begin planting,

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local farmers that lose their land must make a choice

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either they sign up with Mima and begin farming sugarcane

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on the Sosumar plantation, or they opt out and are given

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a new piece of land outside the project area as compensation.

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Land isn't the only valuable commodity here.

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To make way for the pivots,

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Sosumar must cut down thousands of karite trees,

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used to make shea butter,

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an important source of income for local women.

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-We have some karite trees.

-There?

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That one, yeah.

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Now those that have to be removed...

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Yeah.

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-That's where we have the issue.

-We have to replant them.

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We replant more than the number we take away.

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The grafted species of karite can produce after six years.

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So then the population actually gets a young productive tree

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versus the old ones.

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Some of these aren't even producing any more.

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So it's a real win-win.

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Well, they have a few years they won't have any income though.

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Sosumar's funding from the African Development Bank

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comes with conditions attached.

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They must follow strict guidelines on involuntary displacement,

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or the treatment of farmers who lose their land because of the project.

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-Bonjour.

-Ca va?

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-Bonjour.

-Ca va bien.

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A series of attacks at the sugar-cane site

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is complicating matters.

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Change is difficult for everyone.

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It's more difficult for those that had the least change

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and traditionally haven't had change.

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Because they don't know it. It's the unknown.

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But the key is, the scratch peasant farmer to become slowly, with time,

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a small commercial farmer and then a larger commercial farmer.

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But if you want to be so respectful

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that you say, "Any change in my input is not good."

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Then you know what, pack your bags and leave.

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Then what's the point of being here? What is the point of being here?

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On behalf of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa,

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I want to welcome you to this symposium.

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On my left, we have the Minister of Agriculture from Mali.

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Welcome, Minister.

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In this case, I will help translate for the minister.

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AUDIENCE LAUGH

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We are partners after all. Have been for ten years in Mali.

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So this is all an extension of our partnership.

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We were all equally struck as others by the food crisis of 2008 and 2009.

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Nick, it's Mima. I think we've got a bad connection.

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Can you hear me OK or not?

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DIAL TONE

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I got cut off.

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I'm trying to get the date for the closing of all of the

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financing by end of the year so we can get on with the groundbreaking.

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That's the target.

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OK, Nick. Can you hear me?

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I am outside now, hopefully we've got better connection.

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Can you hear me OK?

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Has the Minister responded to your letter on that December launch?

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All right, so in a kind of a back-assed way, we're getting there.

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I mean, this project Markala Sugar, Sosumar is the definer of projects.

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I mean, this will be THE largest investment of its kind

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in agro-industry in Africa today.

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You know, Africa is coming to its real fruition

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in terms of real business, real potential coming up,

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so this is not the time to hang up the boots.

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AUDIENCE APPLAUD

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We're beginning to see real anger about people losing their land,

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and we know already that many civil wars and social conflict

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is driven by land grievance, particularly in Africa.

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Rwanda, there were elements of that,

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certainly Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa.

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So we can expect a lot of conflict, a lot of protest on the issue of

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is this our land, or is this government land to give away?

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We're not trying to impose timelines on anybody,

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but we do want everybody to work out with our set-up

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timelines which are realistic and achievable.

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And then everybody commit to actually getting there.

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We have to get it done this time.

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Cheers, man. Ciao.

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They have to go to the National Assembly to re-ratify

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and after that...

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HE GROANS

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Then they can do the launching.

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That's fine. We all understand that as well,

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but we need a roadmap through to the end of this process

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so that people can see what steps are going to have to happen

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in what order.

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We don't have one just now and we're crazy if we just say,

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"Let's go one step and then see where we are after one step".

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We're mad, we're irresponsible.

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If we want to carry on defending this current timeline,

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then you would have to ask the board now,

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this board meeting for another 70 millions RAMs,

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another 10 million US, just to take us through to March.

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So, to de-risk this thing,

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basically, anything that's a new commitment to the project,

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we stop it. And we stop it like now.

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Almost like a crash stop.

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Yeah. Yeah.

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But still, I think there are options...

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It's a simple fact. The money has run out.

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There is nothing left in the account. Let's look at the bank account.

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Zero. How much can I spend out of zero? Zero.

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Thank you very much. So that's... So now, what happens next?

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Mali is a personal issue in that...

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..maybe not even 100 kilometres from here, back in 1990...

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That's what? 22 years now.

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I had a major car accident and I lost my father.

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I survived. I don't know why.

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Maybe to do this. So at certain points, you know,

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when the President says, "Why are you so tetu?

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"Why are you so hard-headed in making this go?

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"It's difficult, bag it."

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I said, "No, I can't." It has to happen because at some point

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when this is up and running and as the area's developed,

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then we see the change in the people, and it gets going,

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I will then go left on that road when we turn right,

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another 100 kilometres towards where that accident site is,

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and say, "OK, let's break the spirit now."

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These farms, if they are structured properly,

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they will start to function as schools.

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Training Africans to upgrade their labour.

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And this is Africa's weakest link,

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the absence of enterprises through which people can

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acquire practical skills.

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How much are we running into the caretaker administration

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waiting for elections to happen?

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When we're under election period it's more difficult.

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But how important is it for the President to have a groundbreaking

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while he's still president?

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Very important for him.

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As a matter of fact, the Minister herself,

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she said to the Prime Minister that we think that we may be

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ready for groundbreaking in December.

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What needs to be done?

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What still can be done or should be done, must be done informally.

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I guess that's what needs to be done.

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I'm sure formally we're doing everything.

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GUNFIRE

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Mali's coup came just a month before the Presidential elections.

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Soldiers, angry about the government's handling

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of a separatist uprising in the north, rebelled.

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The Government simply melted away.

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This past year, the administration put in a caretaker government,

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waiting for the elections to happen.

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Nobody was making decisions

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and that frustration, ironically, was what the military felt when they

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weren't getting responses when they were fighting their war up north.

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In a kidding sense,

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I was thinking with our partners maybe we should have invaded

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the Ministry of Industry because they were not responding.

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The next day, Sosumar began to withdraw all its foreign employees.

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Banks froze their lending to Mali and Sosumar's funding dried up.

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Neighbouring investors, that had ignored the needs of local farmers,

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continued with their industrial operations,

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while Mima's more progressive dreams lay in tatters.

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There will be a lot of disappointed people.

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A lot of disappointed people.

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Mima turned his attention to Nigeria.

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As the country tries to wean itself off decades of oil dependency,

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Nigeria is aggressively courting agri-business investment.

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We have stopped treating agriculture as a development project.

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Because it is not a development project. Agriculture is a business.

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It's got to be structured exactly that way.

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CROWD APPLAUD

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-Nice to meet you.

-Thank you very much.

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As you said in your presentation,

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agriculture for me has to be scaled up.

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At the same time, that does not mean land grabbing, so for us,

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the critical part is all of our projects integrate the community

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and the contract growers and independent growers.

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Call them what you want,

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but the individual growers are brought into the scheme.

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What do I see in Nigeria?

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The Minister, the Government says, "OK, here's our vision.

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"This is how we envision to develop agriculture in our country."

0:52:390:52:45

All right. Thank you.

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We did not get that from Mali.

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That vision, and that concerted commitment to the vision,

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was not there.

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For Ibrahima, the coup seems like an opportunity,

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a chance to return to the food sovereignty policies of pre-2008.

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But as with Mima,

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his path is clouded by the uncertainties of Mali's future.

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You would think that in 2012

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things would be getting better for the global poor.

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In actual fact, they are being assaulted on all sides.

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Farming is becoming harder with climate change.

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Water is less available.

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And then on top of that, they are facing

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whole new levels of vulnerability with their land rights.

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Do we expect them to take this lying down?

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Or if we are more realistic,

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will we see a 21st century agrarian population resist and could

0:56:330:56:39

this lead to quite significant social conflict and even civil war?

0:56:390:56:44

We've moved away from not talking about it.

0:56:550:56:58

We now have to move to actually being able to do it.

0:56:580:57:01

Get insights into land rights and food security in Africa. Go to:

0:57:410:57:46

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:57:580:58:01

75 per cent of Mali's population are farmers, but rich land-hungry nations like China and Saudi Arabia are leasing Mali's land in order to turn large areas into agri-business farms. Many Malian peasants do not welcome these efforts, seeing them as yet another manifestation of imperialism. Tackling questions such as food sovereignty, land ownership and how development is sold to Africa, Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat's film asks who owns Africa. A BBC Storyville film, produced in partnership with the Open University, the film screens as part of Why Poverty? - when the BBC, in conjunction with more than 70 broadcasters around the world, hosts a debate about contemporary poverty. The global cross-media event sees the same eight films screened in 180 countries to explore why, in the 21st Century, a billion people still live in poverty.


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