Debating “Land Grabbing” at the World Social Forum 2013

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From March 26 to March 30, 2013, the 11th World Social Forum (WSF) took place in Tunis. In only three days, more than 50,000 participants visited over 1,000 sessions. The issue “land grabbing” was less present in Tunis than during the 10th WSF in Dakar in 2011, where the “Dakar Appeal Against the Land Grab“ was signed by a large number of NGOs and other actors of the civil society. Whereas in Dakar 15 sessions mentioned “land grabbing” or “accaparement des terres” in their titles, there were only seven in Tunis. This, however, is not very surprising, taking into account that the focus of the WSF 2013 was the Arab Spring and its consequences. On the other hand it has to be taken into account that even if the term “land grabbing” is not mentioned in the title of a panel session, the issues of land, land rights, and land struggle appeared in several sessions in connection with many other topics. Land issues were mentioned in relation to questions of food sovereignty, migration, gender, environmental and climate protection, developmental and agricultural policies, the production of food, feed and “green energy”, political participation, criticism of capitalism and growth, etc.

In this regard the session “Les dimensions agraires de la révolution tunisienne“ organized by AGTER was particularly instructive. While most analyses tend to focus on international actors and influences, this session showed how important it is to consider the local, regional and national political, legal, economic, social and cultural context. Doing this, the speakers presented an exhaustive agro-economical and agro-sociological analysis of Tunisian society and showed in a very convincing way that an understanding of the Tunisian revolution requires the consideration of land issues.

All in all the discussions at the World Social Forum 2013 did not give the impression that the situation improved since 2011. Especially for South Saharan Africa the participants could not see any positive development. Mamadou Goita (Mali) highlighted in the workshop “Transition agricole” that from the 15 West African countries only two have an agrarian policy that deserves this name (Mali and Senegal). Furthermore, he complained about the one-sided adjustment of the West African agro-economy towards the world market and the absence of a processing industry. Goita explained the relation between commodification, privatization and expropriation and criticized that the mechanisms of certification and the quality standards are working against the African peasants. Another presenter spoke of the “war” by the agroindustry against small farmers and someone in the audience expressed the assumption that, according to the concept of the “reserve army of labour”, the industrialisation and capitalization of the agriculture intentionally produces an army of cheap agricultural workers. In this context several people condemned the criminalisation of farmers trying to protect their land or their seeds.

In the workshop about China’s influence in Africa, Cherif Salif Sy (Senegal) described the colonial origins of the contemporary African agronomy and asserted that the French colonial and postcolonial policy oppressed and is still oppressing the African economic independence. Interestingly, the speakers talked more about the European than about the Chinese influence in Africa. As answer to this problem of economic dependence the organizers of a workshop about Thomas Sankara (president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987) reminded Sankara’s sentence: “Produisons ce dont nous avons besoin et consommons ce que nous produisons au lieu de l’importer“. This is certainly a good answer, but, as reminded Goita his audience, the pre-condition therefore is that land remains a “production tool” in the hands of the so called small farmers.




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