Monday, April 30, 2012

"Zombie" Chinese Land Grabs in Africa Rise Again in New Database!

Sigh.

How durable is a bad news report? How many lives does a zombie have?

How often are we going to find hugely expensive efforts to collect and "verify" land grab "data" that include verification methodologies where one NGO collection of news media stories serves to validate the cases collected by another NGO?

Last week, the new Land Matrix "land grab" database was released at a big World Bank conference on land. The Land Matrix project is "an international partnership involving five major European research centres and 40 civil society and research groups from around the world." On paper, they have a strong methodology and very strict criteria about projects that are to be included. But in practice, they seem to violate their own rules routinely, at least when it comes to Chinese "projects" in Africa.

A colleague who attended the launch told me that "China" was named as the biggest "land grabber" worldwide. He knows my work on this, so he raised an eyebrow, and so did I when he told me. (Were any other eyebrows raised? I don't know.)

I understand there is a lot of Chinese land investment in Asia, especially in Cambodia and Laos. I don't know the Asia cases, but when the database was made public, I checked the China-Africa cases in the online database, which supposedly only lists the cases that have passed their "robust" fact-checking process (which apparently involves checking to see if another NGO has published a link to a media report on an alleged case).  I was interested to see which "Zombie Chinese projects" (i.e. dead projects, or projects that in fact never had any life to them at all!) are in their database as confirmed. Here is a sample:

(1) ZTE oil palm project 2.8 million hectares in DRC The project was discussed but never finalized, land was never allocated, the project -- which was almost certainly a maximum of 100,000 ha -- was never this large -- and has been dead in the water for years.

(2) ABSA Biofuels 30,200 ha in Ethiopia. Huh? This proposed joint venture is not "Chinese" but South African-Chinese-Ethiopian, and was listed in an Ethiopian database in 2008 as in the "pre-implementation" phase. It has never been implemented.

(3) Malibya 100,000 irrigated rice project in Mali. This is identified as Chinese/Libyan investors. In fact, it is only Libyan. They hired a Chinese contractor to develop the irrigation. It is not a Chinese investment.

(4) Uganda 40,500 ha Heibei [sic] multipurpose project. This project, "Hanhe Uganda Hebei Farm," is a reality, but the figure of 40,500 ha is a wild hope for the future, not an actual concession. Today, the Hebei entrepreneur, Qiu Lijun, is cultivating vegetables and mushrooms on 173 ha, with an initial capital of 9.9 million RMB (a bit more than $1.5 million). A 2010 article on a Hebei website in China provided a figure of 8097 ha (20,000 acres) for the project, but it isn't clear if this is an actual land concession or a plan. In late 2011, he spoke about plans of expanding to 17,333 hectares (260,000 mu) 'in the near future'. *

(5) Zimbabawe 101,170 ha irrigated maize project. I've written about this countless times. It was a construction contract given to a Chinese company by the Zimbabwe government, not a Chinese investment. They were not paid. They went home. The land never ended up being developed. This all happened almost ten years ago, in 2003 for Pete's sake!

So, another pretty awful collection of so-called "data", with strong media attention that will give yet another round of life to these Zombie Stories. For more from me on this topic, search this blog under "Land Grab".

A hat tip to Poul Wisborg (and to Duncan Green at Oxfam for circulating the link).

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*My analysis of the Uganda case was revised on June 18, 2012.






11 comments:

  1. Delighted to finally see another outspoken reaction to this rubbish dataset.

    See also http://ruralmodernity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/the-land-matrix-much-ado-about-nothing/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Many NGOs' fortunes rise or fall on their ability to produce bad news about China. It's a mini-industry for them, a maxi-industry for the Western media. My only solace is that the propaganda war is slowly being lost to the Chinese.
    Even that old chestnut, the Tiananmen "massacre" is now slowly and reluctantly being downgraded to an "incident", though an entire generation of Westerners have been indoctrinated by it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bias?

    I'd be inclined to agree …
    But for one example I would still like to see a plausible explanation …

    Not so lang ago Africa pundit Jean Louis Gouraud of Jeune Afrique published a good but critical interview of Director General Lu Shaye of the Dpt of African Affairs (to consult on Focac) and to the end comes this question:
    “Has’nt China procured a large area of arable land in Madagascar?”

    How is this possible?
    Jeune Afrique is generally very knowledgeable …
    Jean Louis Gouraud is more or less the "father" of Jeune Afrique…
    The plan to purchase this land has been extensively in the press.
    The cancellation also.
    That question gives Lu Shaye the opportunity to mention Korea and other nations …
    Ignorance or bias here seem to me to be almost excluded...
    Can there be another reason?
    dan

    ReplyDelete
  4. And 'progressive' British media all too ready to snowball it quickly ... http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/apr/27/international-land-deals-database-africa

    Apart from the 'ghost' imagined deals the famous database surely includes an unbelievable mix of 'apples and bananas' all conveniently lumped into a single 'land grab' category. what a pity.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gotten wise from your previous postings (and some other scattered critical work, not to mention own experiences with media reports on rice fields in Namibia planning to employ 300.000 people), I tried to post a comment about the ZTE International project, citing your blog. Comments don't work. An email produced a corteous answer that my comment would be forwarded "to the organization responsible for the management of the database". That was 8 days ago. I'll keep you updated if anything happens. So far, the entry remains unchanged, the coment function does not seem to work.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interestingly, in the same webpage cited by Carlos, there is a link heading to another significant story, although dated several months ago:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/08/us-universities-africa-land-grab?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487


    Do you know this database?
    http://www.globallandproject.org/Documents/GLP_report_01.pdf

    For instance it shows that up to 2010, not a single Chinese investor was involved in land deals in Ethiopia, although the claim that land deals made by 'China' explains the Horn of Africa famine last year: http://www.thelocal.de/national/20110728-
    36607.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you very much for your posts.

    Do you know this study and database?

    http://www.globallandproject.org/Documents/GLP_report_01.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  8. Dear all,

    Thank you for your specific comments on deals in the land matrix. This is exactly the kind of feedback we are hoping to receive with its launch into the public realm. We realise that we have not been clear enough in the website on the specific categories of deals. Our database includes concluded deals, as well as "work in progress" deals in various stages of completeness and "failed" deals. These are included in the overall database as an indication of the level of interest in acquiring land, even where such deals have until now been unsuccessful.

    We will modify the public interface to make this a separate and more distinct category. Although we have put much effort into sorting and checking the data that has been collected by a virtual team over the past two years, the lack of transparency and frequent changes in the status of deals mean that errors are inevitable. Our decision to make the existing data public is not a claim that it is all verified, but a strategy to use crowdsourcing to contribute to the continual updating and improvement of data. Your comments are therefore extremely useful, and will be taken into account in the ongoing revision of the data.

    Ward ANSEEUW for The LAND MATRIX Partnership

    ReplyDelete
  9. The message below is from the Land Matrix Team

    Dear all,

    Thank you for your specific comments on deals in the land matrix. This is exactly the kind of feedback we are hoping to receive with its launch into the public realm. We realise that we have not been clear enough in the website on the specific categories of deals. Our database includes concluded deals, as well as "work in progress" deals in various stages of completeness and "failed" deals. These are included in the overall database as an indication of the level of interest in acquiring land, even where such deals have until now been unsuccessful.

    We will modify the public interface to make this a separate and more distinct category. Although we have put much effort into sorting and checking the data that has been collected by a virtual team over the past two years, the lack of transparency and frequent changes in the status of deals mean that errors are inevitable. Our decision to make the existing data public is not a claim that it is all verified, but a strategy to use crowdsourcing to contribute to the continual updating and improvement of data. Your comments are therefore extremely useful, and will be taken into account in the ongoing revision of the data.

    Ward ANSEEUW for The LAND MATRIX Partnership

    ReplyDelete
  10. What about the other G7 nations exploitation in Africa? Why is Congo in war since the 60's? What did Africa get after colonization from the good masters? What about the colonialist that still own huge pieces of land, are they Chinese too? Africa close ties with China seem to be getting a bad vibe to those who hoped to continue with their exploitation. Sorry since Western global politics can not help.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Is China any different from other countries as well as large Corporations in Land Grab? Check out this: Hedge funds are behind “land grabs” in Africa to boost their profits in the food and biofuel sectors, a US think-tank says.
    http://bedsidereadings.com/who-knew/

    ReplyDelete