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In recent decades, and ever since the beginning of the “neoliberal era,” major changes have been taking place in the world regarding the question of land, particularly its ownership, management, investment, and production.
In our region, these changes are combined with several other factors. There are the colonial practices that had already been in play on the land, and after independence was achieved, there was the local authorities’ “tampering” with the land. The various strategies put in place by those authorities to manage the agricultural sector in these countries were most likely based on delusions of modernization and industrialization and the assumption that the rural countryside is synonymous with underdevelopment. The Algerian case is a stark example in this regard.
The disquieting outcome common to all the cases studied in this folder is the depletion of cultivated land, in comparison to the enormous agricultural potential which might have been realized had other developmental options been made, and had different political, economic, and social approaches been adopted.
This stage was followed by the negligence of rural and agricultural areas, which were forgotten as the parasitic authorities concentrated their presence in the centers and preoccupied themselves with providing rentier incomes through brokerage and corruption. The conditions of the rural areas thus deteriorated, and the villages and agricultural centers became increasingly repelling to their residents. Poor yields from the land and issues related to irrigation, transportation, and seeds were always cited as some of the reasons behind the situation. The necessary conditions for agriculture were ruined, leading to a mass migration of farmers to the cities, where they inhabited the slums, in particular. On the other hand, the distribution of land, whether by confiscation and seizure or by buying it at depreciated prices, became a vast field open to the authorities to practice their bribery and satisfy their clientele relationships.
Finally, there is an “objective” fact that the whole planet suffers from, and that is climate change with all its concomitant environmental disasters and the mass migrations it leads to. The ramifications are grave: immense food dependency, desertification, and a near-mass displacement of the population.
So, what are the changes that have occurred regarding land ownership in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Sudan over the past three decades? And how pervasive has the practice of “leasing” agricultural areas for long terms to multinational companies or to Chinese or Gulf companies become? Whether this has been done via direct contracts with those foreign parties or through intermediate local investors who cater their agricultural products to the needs of the foreign investors, per the latters’ book of conditions and for the sake of the financial and commercial interests of these companies, rather than for the local needs of the population. What changes are taking place on the lands after they have been acquired by local actors who are investing in the cultivation of new kinds of crops or in projects that have nothing to do with agriculture at all, such as construction projects or real estate speculations?
Based on these commonalities, we have approached and studied various cases in different countries. However, we have tried to focus on the following questions: Who owns the land in the first place? Who produces what? How does all this relate to the overall choices, trends, and policies of the ruling regimes? Since the issue is indeed enormous, the texts of this folder have sufficed with providing the data, defining the direction of the noticeable changes, and monitoring the major tangible phenomena that reflect these changes.
The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of Assafir Al-Arabi and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation cannot accept any liability for it.
Translated from Arabic by Sabah Jalloul