The Motherland: A re-scramble for Africa
It’s been a fortnight since I begrudgingly brushed off the dust of Accra from my once shiny black shoes. My father rather worryingly gave me a scare with his health, sending me on a long distance errand to West Africa.
Late at night, a few days after my arrival, whilst within me I was desperately trying to cling on to a few weak strands of hope for the recovery of my father, I was made to understand through the wonders of MTN mobile technologies that graveyard-shift thieves equipped with an earth mover had happened upon my inheritance, a 21 acre farm land in FayenKyeneKor, Nsawam – 35 miles outside Accra, for the sole purpose of ‘Sand-Winning’.
The terminology may sound strange to some, but just mention ‘Sand-Winning’ in Ghana and a biased lecture, dependent on which side of the debate one purports to, is conjured among locals. The modern term for this activity is ‘sand extraction’ and the reason why individuals or ‘contractors’, as they are known in Ghana, carry out this activity under the cover of darkness lies in its mostly illegal nature.
Stewing for some confrontation and some reprieve, anything to alleviate the stress and frustration of not possessing the supernatural healing powers of St. Paul the Apostle to instantly make my once young and agile old man as youthful as I once knew him,’ I ploughed onwards to Fayenkyenekor, fists clenched, poised with an adder’s tongue.
I must admit, it’s been several years since I was a regular on the farm. What was once a cackling poultry farm, corn and cassava field, tropical fruit haven with its two 20ft hand dug wells, is no more but a picture of yesteryear. Surprisingly I met swathes of traffic on this dusty back road, industrial haulers, laden with earth, ran freely to and fro – where once these same dusty roads routed the harvest of tomatoes, pineapples, and produce destined for numerous kitchens, superstores and markets stalls home and abroad.
En route I saw devastation to once fertile land that needs to be seen to be believed. Entire future populations have been visibly stripped of their livelihood! If this scandalous business is being practiced on this scale the effect is bound to be felt, much sooner rather than later, in the farming sector in Ghana. A sector which, by the way, is not so different from that of the rest of the continent.
Broadly speaking, small-scale eco or (subsistence) farmers, by sheer numbers, make up the greatest proportion of food producers in Africa, with commercial farms, cash crop and plantation farmers accounting for remnants of the percentage pie. It doesn’t take an expert eye to notice that Sand-Winning is wreaking havoc to eco-farming, devastating livelihoods, annihilating fauna, and threatening food production.
Africa has the ability to feed the world and yet it is barely able to feed itself
In March 2011 the United Nations (UN) reported that small-scale “eco-farming” could double food production in many of the world’s poorest regions and also help fight climate change. Three months later in June, former UN Secretary, Nobel Peace prize winner and Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Kofi Annan, addressing the McDougall Memorial Lecture on food security gave stark warning of incumbent food security crises, stating “along with tackling the linked problem of climate change, delivering global food and nutrition security is the challenge of our time”.
The challenge of “Food Security” is a matter of life and death, a fight that is greatly undermined by the very people whose lives depend on it. And as climate change bulldozes its undesired way across Africa, voluntary human destruction could deal the final blow. Unless action is taken, our future livelihood and vehicle of existence will erode before our own eyes.
Driving back to Accra after spitting venom in the faces of the illegal sand-winners, (I reported the case to the local police station) I couldn’t help thinking why some people are so happy to sell and destroy what ensures their own survival. The bottom line is cash, cold hard cash, money, and lots of it, the Scramble for Africa redux, with African collusion and involvement all over again.
A retired mining engineer later tells me that sand-winning is akin to mining and requires a somewhat equivalent permit, which many sand-winning contractors do not hold. A little more digging unearthed a report from the Oakland Institute, a Californian think-tank, detailing how global hedge funds and Ivy League institutions such as Harvard are buying up large tracts of farm land in Africa on the promise of 20-40 percent returns on agricultural investments. The report states that the acquisitions have displaced millions of small farmers and “is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism.”
Whilst the writer notes that this is hardly sand-winning, it all boils down to small-scale eco farming suffering at the expense of another’s quest for profit.
“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the worlds food supply” – The Great Land Grab – Oakland Institute Report
Africa is seemingly the last frontier, and global interest on the continent has experienced an upsurge in the last two decades, with several countries in the International Community clearly outlining Foreign Policies towards Africa. Billions of U.S. dollars are now geared towards African economies, hitherto left to rot, new foreign embassies have sprouted roots where no seeds were formerly sown… there is economic change on the continent. In spite of this change, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN reports that the number of hungry people in the world is as high as 925 million with most in developing nations.
Africa has the ability to feed the world and yet it is barely able to feed itself. This calls for a change of attitude to the land from the foundation up: land owners, sand-winners, police authorities, indigenous governments, populace and foreign investors.
Everything we have on this earth emanates from the ground, of which this wonderful African Eden is very much a part, if we, the African, European, Asian, Pan-American and the Australasian, don’t learn how to fall deeply in love again with the land – our existence will be increasingly more difficult. On my return to the UK, after thankfully seeing my father’s health restored, I received another MTN call from Ghana announcing that the illegal sand-winners had revisited and raped my family land in the dead of the night, despite our police reports, lawyers’ instructions, high decibel screams and warnings to desist.