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Chinese companies corralling land around world



Chinese companies are heavily invested in banana plantations in northern Myanmar, which began appearing around 2015, drastically altering the landscape.

Acquisition of nearly 6.5m hectares over 10 years sets off alarms

TOKYO/YANGON — China’s strategic muscle-flexing is not limited to its expansive maritime claims and vigorous infrastructure exports; Chinese entities have also been aggressively acquiring land overseas.

Chinese companies are buying up land in Asia and Africa. The combined area of land purchased or leased by such companies over the past decade is equal to the total land area of Sri Lanka or Lithuania and much larger than acquisitions by their counterparts in the U.S. and other major countries.

Concerns are growing that emerging and developing countries, as sources of supply for food and natural resources, will fall under China’s sway. The security implications are worrying as well.

Japan and other large countries cannot brush aside this Chinese buying spree as insignificant.

“Regulations should be further tightened to prevent the uncontrolled corralling of land,” said Hideki Hirano, a professor at Himeji University who studies foreign investors’ land acquisitions.

To give just one example, bananas are extensively cultivated in the northern Myanmar state of Kachin. Banana trees standing some 3 meters tall grow thick and throw deep shadows in plantation areas. The development of plantations began to accelerate around 2015 and has drastically changed the landscape.

Chinese companies are heavily involved in banana cultivation in the area, according to surveys by nongovernmental and other organizations. Banana exports from Myanmar soared 250 times from $1.5 million in 2013 to $370 million in 2020, according to data from the United Nations. Most of the produce goes to China.

Banana plantations have continued to operate in Kachin since the military coup in February, local residents say, because they are an important source of tax revenue for the Myanmar armed forces.

Chinese businesses are altering the landscape of many places beyond Myanmar. In the southern Vietnamese province of Binh Phuoc, natural rubber production is an important industry. But that industry is now under threat due to the activities of New Hope Liuhe, a leading Chinese livestock company, which is raising a huge herd of pigs on a 75-hectare plot of land developed in 2019. New Hope has expanded in central and northern Vietnam as well, using its year-old pig farm in Binh Phuoc as a model.

In all, Chinese companies have gained control of 6.48 million hectares of land devoted to agriculture, forestry and mining around the world from 2011 to 2020, according to Land Matrix, a European land monitoring organization. That figure dwarfs the combined 1.56 million hectares controlled by British companies, the 860,000 hectares held by American companies and the 420,000 hectares controlled by Japanese ones.

Chinese businesses are rapidly acquiring land overseas to meet burgeoning domestic demand resulting from China’s economic development. Acquiring land abroad gives these businesses stable access to natural resources as supplies tighten around the world.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo offers an illustration: Most of the land in the central African country, is forested. Amid soaring timber prices, a Chinese company, Wan Peng, has been shipping large quantities of timber from the country to China. The Congolese Embassy in Tokyo declined to comment on the contract with the Chinese company.

Chinese companies are also buying mines. China Minmetals invested $280 million in Tanzania, in southern Africa, in 2019, and China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining poured $730 million into a mining operation in Guinea in 2020, according the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank. The investments were reportedly aimed at gaining access to minerals for use in, among other things, batteries for electric vehicles.

Countries that accept Chinese investment are exposed to potential risks as they become more reliant on China. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a huge multinational infrastructure development program, is a debt trap scheme, say experts. Host nations become heavily indebted to China in an effort to spur development and are later are unable to escape its control.

When CHEC developed a port in southern Sri Lanka, the country was unable to repay loans to China and handed over the port to CHEC on a 99-year lease — a typical example of the debt trap.

In May, China Harbor Engineering (CHEC) won an order to build an expressway in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city. The Chinese company will continue to own the highway after its completion, handing it over to Sri Lanka’s control only after collecting tolls for 18 years. Criticism is also simmering about the murky bidding process for the highway order in Colombo.

Chinese moves to snap up assets abroad are generating countermeasures around the world.

In June, Japan’s parliament enacted a new law to tighten regulations on the acquisition and use of land in places deemed vital to national security. The law, aimed at China, is designed to prevent questionable land deals by foreign businesses. There are already cases of foreign entities owning land near the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s base in Chitose, Hokkaido, for example.

Other types of land, such as general-use forests, have yet to be covered by such regulations. Foreign entities have acquired 46 hectares of farmland and 7,560 hectares of woodland, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

In addition, “there are cases of land owned nominally by Japanese citizens, but which are backed by Chinese entities,” said a person connected to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

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Access to land, capital hampering youth’s involvement in agri-business



Stakeholder engagement with governments to support the youths should be a component of every programme

Young people in sub-Saharan Africa have keen interest in agriculture especially with the use of technology but are hampered with numerous challenges including limited access to land, skills set, sustainable financing and access to markets, a new report has revealed.

A new study carried out by Heifer International in 21 African countries titled ‘The Future of Africa’s Agriculture – An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology,’ reveals that 10 out of 11 countries, with the exception of Tanzania agreed that the most important support required is funding.

However, more training and mentorship were seen as more important than funding in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The survey also reveals that whereas more youths in Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe stressed the need for support in the area of access to markets, their counterparts in Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana prioritized the need for support in agri-technologies. Access to land was the major concern for the youth in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The organisations working in the sector suggested that the best way to engage youths in agriculture is through technological innovation (39%), government support for young farmers (32%) and inclusion of youths in agriculture policy formulation (21%).

“Most youths in Africa also do not have access to land for agriculture.  59% of youths surveyed do not have access or own land. Land ownership amongst young people is lowest in Ghana, Zambia, Senegal and Rwanda,” the survey notes. “Youths in Malawi seem to have access to land, with only 14% having no access, the lowest among countries surveyed.”

Technology adoption

Overall, technology adoption in Africa too remains low, with Ghana, Senegal and Zambia having the lowest agri-tech adoption rate.  Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria have the highest technological adoption rates, according to the survey that featured 30,000 youths, stakeholders in innovations and small holder farmers.

William Matovu, a director at Heifer International-Uganda said the paradox of Africa’s economic development is that the continent’s urban and rural populations who produce most of the food is mostly comprised of smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming while living in extreme poverty.

“This scenario scares away the continent’s youth from careers in agriculture, yet ordinarily Africa’s youth should be replacing the aging farming population but this generational shift is not happening fast and well enough to secure Africa’s food security goals,” he said.

He reckoned that Africa’s youths disapproving attitude towards agriculture is mainly a result of lack of funding which is the biggest barrier towards their interest in the sector.

Africa’s agricultural sector accounts for nearly 30% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and employs 54% of the work force, but it is still underdeveloped.

Mondo Kyateeka, the Commissioner for Youth and Child Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development said unfortunately, young people are selling off the only available land to migrate to cities or go abroad for low-skills jobs

He said there are also feelings that older people are not willing to relinquish the land they can no longer use, to the younger persons to use it.

He, however, said the government is seeking ways of curbing the sale of agricultural land, saying the position is that agricultural land should remain for that purpose.

Key recommendations

As a result, the survey recommends a review of existing programmes that targets smallholder farmers and that youths must be conducted to determine if the current strategies support the African farmer with the use of technology.

“Innovation must be viewed within the context of the current realities,’ the survey notes. Beyond a smart App, the survey says providing linkages to local and regional markets will go a long way in improving the financial bottom-line of every farmer. The survey says digital literacy must also be a key consideration.

The survey says while smallholder farmers in rural areas do not have access to smart phones or Internet access, a basic phone is a good starting point in introducing the use of technology, through weekly SMS on prevailing market prices and best input bargains.

Furthermore, youths with a keen interest in agri-tech must work collaboratively with smallholder farmers to get a better understanding of their challenges and how to provide sustainable and affordable solutions.

“There is also need to capture data to provide evidence-based results on the immediate benefit and long-term impact of the use of technology by smallholder farmers,” the survey notes, adding that stakeholder engagement with the governments to provide access to land, tax waivers and fiscal policies that deliberately support youths in the sector should be a component of every programme.

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East Africa poised to monitor carbon emission



A factory emits smoke.

East Africa will soon be able to monitor how much carbon dioxide or methane is produced by particular activity at any particular point in time thanks to a NASA-aided system that combines observable ground data, real time satellite measurements of carbon dioxide and next-generation microbial soil modelling.

Cornell University researchers will develop the system that combines what they called “bottom-up“ ecological modelling with “top-down“ satellite data, thanks to a three-year, $1 million NASA grant, which began on July 1.

The researchers said last week Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia have experienced deforestation will be covered by the system.

The system estimate will help in monitoring increase in carbon gained from potential afforestation, as well as how long this accumulation could take. These East African countries have ambitious climate mitigation programmes to sequester carbon in soils. Since the countries don’t produce a lot of energy that emits carbon, their mitigation measures rely on putting carbon into ecosystems such as soils.

It is hoped that the rigorous, accurate and low-cost carbon monitoring system will help policymakers verify the effectiveness of their efforts when they seek international climate financing. The data will also inform food-security policies, as more soil carbon provides crop resilience to climate change.

Carbon also helps store more water in soils, making crops more tolerant and resistant to droughts, which increases yields.

Original Source:   THE EAST AFRICAN

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Climate change will see East Africa get wetter say scientists



Cows in flooded pastures in the Tana delta, Kenya. According to scientists, while temperatures are predicted to rise, the region will likely get wetter mid-century. 

East Africa could be the lucky exception to the disastrous effects of climate change as scientists predict increased precipitation as temperatures rise.

Four scientists — working with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) — Kizito Kwena, William Ndegwa, Imad Ali-Babiker and Hezron Mogaka — say the flipside to rising temperatures is that East Africa is likely to get wetter mid-century.

Citing separate studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank, the researchers say the projected 2°C increase in surface temperatures will result in an 11 per cent increase in rainfall over 80 per cent of the region.

“As unfamiliar as this counter-narrative seems, climate change presents the region an opportunity to think and act differently, to change the way it views growth and interacts with the environment,” says of their paper titled The curse of food insecurity and climate change in Africa.

The scientists say the 2025 zero hunger target set by African leaders is achievable, if governments in the region invest at least 10 per cent of their GDP in agriculture and direct resources into climate-smart agriculture.

READ: Climate-smart farming boosting food security around the globe

According to Dr Kwena, while most climate models remain optimistic about the rainfall situation in East Africa — where vast areas of land are arid or semi-arid — the challenge is that governments may not be prepared to maximise the associated benefits.

“Climate change is not disaster all round. Climate models are predicting drought in one part of the continent and increased rainfall in the other. That is a huge opportunity considering the vast areas in the region that are arid or semi-arid. The challenge is how we harness this opportunity,” said Dr Kwena.

And while there have been attempts, Dr Kwena said most climate-smart interventions have been limited to a farm or plot level, which restricts the impacts that could be achieved if climate smart agriculture technologies were applied on a larger scale.

There will also be a need for some adjustments. For instance, if the arid and semi-arid areas of the region become wetter, communities may be required to adopt new livelihood activities. These views stand in sharp contrast to other scenarios that predict that in many parts of Africa, every 1°C increase in temperature will result in a five per cent decline in food yields.

“Already, there have been several climate-induced grain shocks in the world. In the medium-term, climate change causes production losses and increases cost structures. In the long-term, climate change causes production collapse,” said Asareca’s executive secretary Professor Francis Wachira, adding, “With this kind of forecast, it is important to make our cropping systems better adapted to a warming world.”

Enhance resilience

Climate-smart agriculture would enhance the resilience of food systems while also contributing to reduction of emissions, Prof Wachira said, adding that every dollar invested in agricultural research and development results in a 68kg reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide while a one per cent increase in agricultural water productivity frees up 24 litres of water per person per day.

Prof Wachira added that despite its potential, Africa remains a net importer of food even as other regions of the world have tripled their output.

In East and Central Africa, crop yields have stagnated over the past half a century, leading to sharp declines in per capita food production and an increase in poverty and hunger.

He pointed to market failures and over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture as the major factors behind the under-performance of African agriculture, a situation he warns will be exacerbated by climate change.

Original Source:  THE EAST AFRICAN

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