After 4.5 billion years of natural evolution, the arrival of genetically modified organisms is being promoted as a “second genesis” in which the planet is being repopulated by commercially patented life forms.
The potential long-term impact of these laboratory creations, from the emergence of new super-pests to the loss of genetic diversity in the natural world, is as yet unknown.
But for many, that is reason enough to proceed with extreme caution.
Small farmers in Kenya and its African neighbours grow ever more worried that the extra costs associated with using genetically modified crops will bury them in debt and force them to give up their land.
If that happens, there are many eager speculators ready to grab the opportunity.
The Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation and Monsanto are two of the better known ‘investors’ and have pumped billions into Africa in order to gain control of the food supply.
Oxfam has reported that over the past decade, 561 million acres of land in the Global South and the former Soviet Bloc have been sold, leased or licensed largely in Africa and to international investors.
It’s an area larger than Alaska and Texas combined.
The trend has accelerated since 2008 when food prices spiked around the world and Western investors fled from the U.S. property market.
Asian and Middle Eastern countries have bought up large tracts of land in Africa to ensure their future food supply.
Western investors, meanwhile, are turning to Africa to boost biofuel production by planting vast swaths of sugar cane and palm oil.
In many cases, investors see their taxes waived by host governments and are allowed to produce entirely for export.
China for example, purchased 250,000 acres of agricultural land in Zimbabwe in 2008 and is investing $800 million in Mozambique to modernise rice production for export.
In 2008 Philippe Heilburg, a former commodities trader at AIG, leased 988,000 acres in the south of Sudan from a local warlord.
Since South Sudan gained independence, Heilburg has leased another 740,000 acres.
Heilburg’s goal is to convert the land into an agricultural plantation.
From 2006 to 2010, 22,000 Ugandans in the Kiboga and Mubende districts were violently displaced from their forest homes by local security forces after a British timber company acquired title to the land they had been farming for decades.
“The scale of the land deals being struck is shocking,” Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute has said. “ The conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up world food prices and increase the risks of climate change.”