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Could a U.S.–China trade war lead to a new wave of land grabs?



By Carin Smaller, David Laborde
A trade war is looming between the United States and China. President Donald Trump has proposed tariffs on over 1,000 Chinese imports.
China has responded, saying it would impose duties on U.S. imports, including agricultural products. If they follow through, the resulting trade war would be disastrous—and not just for those two countries. What could it mean for global food security and the environment?
Let’s examine the case of soybeans, which China threatens to hit with a 25 per cent import tariff. Today, soybeans are a ubiquitous commodity in the global food chain. Seventy per cent of soy production goes to feed animals, particularly chickens, pigs and cows, as producers cater to the increased demand for meat from growing middle classes. The rest goes toward cooking oil, biodiesel, oleochemicals and other processed foods.
Agriculture and changes in land use already account for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions—a new wave of investment in soybean production outside the U.S. will lead to still more clearing of land, making matters worse.
The United States is the largest producer and exporter of soybeans, while China is the largest importer, importing two thirds of all U.S. exports. China cannot meet its own soybean demand because of limited agricultural land and stagnant yields. And yet its appetite for soybeans is immense: China imports close to 100 million metric tonnes annually—equivalent to 10,000 shipping containers per day. So what might happen if soybean imports from the United States are disrupted?
Such a move could unleash a major disruption of world markets reminiscent of the runup to the 2008 food price crisis—when the prices of rice, wheat and corn nearly doubled over a two-year period.
Shifts in China’s soybean supply typically have major market consequences. In March of this year alone, China purchased a third more soybeans from Brazil than a year earlier, driving up Brazilian soybean prices. If China replaces U.S. soybean imports with imports from other countries, their prices will rise. On the flip side, the U.S. could end up with a huge surplus of soybeans, driving down domestic prices and/or leading to dumping on other markets.
Historically, this type of disruption has had long-term impacts on the agricultural sectors of affected countries: When the Nixon administration implemented an embargo on soybean exports in the early 1970s, Brazil and Argentina expanded their production to fill the gap, triggering a trend that continues today.
More recently, the 2008 food price crisis triggered a global land rush. Many food-importing countries lost faith in the ability of world markets to reliably provide for their populations, and foreign and domestic investors acquired large tracts of farmland across Africa and Asia as a hedge against future uncertainty. A U.S.–China trade war could revive this unfortunate trend. China could be forced to search for new frontiers to secure its soybean demand and protect its supply chains, leading to another wave of so-called “land grabs.”
Indeed, China’s agricultural investments abroad have been growing steadily over the past decade, from USD 300 million in 2009 to USD 3.3 billion in 2016, most of it going to Asia (see chart below). Meanwhile, the Chinese chemicals giant ChemChina recently bought Swiss agrochemical giant Syngenta for CHF 43 billion.
If China and other countries expand global soybean production, that could exacerbate the negative environmental impacts of the global soy footprint. Soybeans are already a driver of deforestation in Brazil and Argentina. The area of land in South America devoted to soy more than tripled, from 17 million to 58 million hectares, between 1990 and 2015, mainly on land converted from natural ecosystems (FAOSTAT). Agriculture and changes in land use already account for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions—a new wave of investment in soybean production outside the U.S. will lead to still more clearing of land, making matters worse.
What can be done to head off disaster? First and foremost, a trade war must be averted at all costs. But there are other opportunities for action. Governments in Africa and Asia could now act on the lessons learned from the last wave of foreign land investment. Reforms have already been introduced in many countries to reform corrupt or insider-driven business practices, and better represent the interests of people and the environment. New land laws in Mali and Benin provide a durable solution to land tenure insecurity in rural communities. Laos introduced a temporary moratorium on land investments in order to conduct a comprehensive inventory of deals and improve the legal framework for foreign investment.
China cannot meet its own soybean demand because of limited agricultural land and stagnant yields
Indeed, as shown on the map below, several African countries could become the new frontier for soybean expansion, in particular in Central and Eastern Africa. This means that the new East African Community (EAC) model contract for farmland investments is highly relevant, as it strengthens the processes for managing environmental and social impacts, and for ensuring that women’s land rights are protected.
Finally, the threats posed by today’s trade tensions offer an opportunity to rethink current production and consumption patterns and reform food systems. For the sake of the environment and for global food security, meat and dairy consumption must be reduced in countries where the consumption is too high: essentially all industrialized countries. In addition, sustainable agricultural production methods such as reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and promoting the use of animal manure as natural fertilizer must be adopted. By taking such proactive steps, the world can build sustainable, more resilient food systems that can weather both the trade and climate upheavals.
Carin Smaller is Advisor on Agriculture and Investment at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
Source: IISD


Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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