NGOs blame Berlin for feeding big business land grabs

  
Oxfam protestors demonstrate against land grabbing in Westminster, UK. 2012 [Oxfam International/Flickr]
Oxfam protestors demonstrate against land grabbing. London, 2012. [Oxfam International/Flickr]

NGOs in Germany accuse the public development agency DEG of promoting land grabbing in developing and newly industrialised countries and blames the German government for not taking the issue seriously. EurActiv Germany reports.

"The German government backs land grabbing and insufficient transparency within the framework of German development cooperation," said Niema Movassat, a Bundestag MP from Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke).

NGOs and Die Linke’s faction in the Bundestag blame the German Development Ministry (BMZ) for willingly promoting land grabbing by large agricultural corporations, thereby accepting destruction of smallholders' basis of existence.

The business activities of the Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) lie at the heart of their criticism, an organisation which was founded by the federal government as a subsidiary of the state bank KfW. Human rights violations and land grabbing continue to occur as a result of the DEG's financed projects, critics say.

As a matter of fact, the BMZ itself plays an influential role within the DEG: The chairman of the supervisory board is Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, parliamentary state secretary of the BMZ.

But the ministry rejects accusations of human rights violations. This can be drawn from the response signed by Fuchtel in answer to a small inquiry from Die Linke, obtained by EurActiv Germany.

Under the heading "DEG's contribution toward transparent German development cooperation" representatives from Die Linke demanded information regarding the DEG's standards and approval criteria.

In addition, the party wanted to know what information the German government has concerning whether and to what extent the institute is complying with the UN's guidelines against land grabbing under the "Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security".

The short but clear answer provided by the German government to this question was: "None".

The government, Movossat said, does not consider it necessary to conduct public screening of the DEG's business activities. Not to mention the fact that it does not take reports of land grabbing and human rights violations seriously, Movossat added.

"The principle by which the German government assesses the DEG's business activities is: The DEG does good work because it says it is doing good work," Movossat said.

BMZ: The DEG's control mechanisms are sufficient

Meanwhile the German government indicates controls and certification procedures like the DEG's internal environmental and social assessments on the basis of the World Bank's current IFC Performance Standards.

But according to Movassat these tests have a snag: "These results are not accessible to the public. As a result, an objective examination over whether the DEG's work promotes sustainable development in project countries is simply not possible."

The DEG, which was founded in 1962, intends to support business initiatives in developing and newly industrialised countries as a means of promoting sustainable growth and better living conditions among local populations.

According to its business report, last year the DEG contributed €1.5 billion to finance private investments – a record value for the institute.

$25 million of this sum went to the agricultural and food corporation Zambeef, which currently owns 100,000 hectares of farmland in Zambia. 

The human rights organisation FIAN criticised a growing imbalance: Agriculture is the means of subsistence for 85% of the population in Zambia.

The poorest quarter of households own an average of 0.6 hectares of land each - barely enough to feed a family, said FIAN.

The rapid expansion of agricultural business make land conflicts more acute, particularly in areas with fertile soils, good access to water and functioning transportation connections.

"In Zambia, German development cooperation is supporting the concentration of land in the hands of a few corporations and is exacerbating the existing discrimination of smallholders over the access productive resources", explained FIAN agricultural advisor Roman Herre.

Herre authored a study titled Fast track agribusiness expansion, land grabs and the role of European private and public financing in Zambia.

Land grabbing in Zambia and Sierra Leone

Another one of the DEG's partners is the bio-ethanol producer Addax Bioenergy, which owns 44,000 hectares in Sierra Leone.

A study conducted by several NGOs discovered that the monopolistic position of Addax Bioenergy had negative effects on the environment and on the health of the local population. In addition, numerous smallholders had their land taken from them, the study says.

In both cases, the German government downplayed the situation, emphasising instead the positive effects of the investments made: In Zambia, agriculture is the second most important economic sector after mining, the government said, playing a key role in fighting poverty and creating jobs in rural areas.

At the moment, the German government continued, considerable potential exists in the form of agriculturally exploitable area.

"In this context, land-use conflicts in Zambia have been the exception up until now, according to the German government's information," said the Ministry of Development.

In the case of Addax Bioenergy, the DEG supports the "dissemination of recognised sustainable international industrial standards". The company is the first to be certified under the recommendations of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), the German government explained.

But a study by the Sierra Leone Network on Right to Food (SiLNoRF) and the Swiss NGO Bread for All demonstrated evidence that Addax Bioenergy is violating the RSB requirements in three areas: food security, free and prior informed consent and involuntary resettlements.

Die Linke is livid over the fact that the BMZ continually provides no information regarding the question of whether the DEG-financed projects follow the UN Voluntary Guidelines.

"These guidelines are meant to prevent land grabbing. Their development was strongly supported by the German government at the international level", Movassat recalled, "now [Germany] is not even pushing for compliance from companies closely associated with the government. This goes to show how serious the German government really is about combating land grabbing."

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