Guardian News & Media (Johannesburg) | Aug 27 2010

KATIE ALLEN

If dodgy emails offering millions in return for your down payment to repatriate a stranded Nigerian astronaut do not tempt you, then maybe this will appeal to your speculative side — a hectare of fertile African land on a 99-year lease — for $1 a year.

Think about it: crop prices are soaring, land is appreciating and importdependent rich nations almost guarantee you a never-ending export market. It’s starting to sound like that Nigerian astronaut deal. But this is not a scam.

Sadly, for anyone who happens to live on that farmland, there are countless examples of African governments handing it over at bargain prices to foreign investors, ranging from hedge funds to biofuel producers. Critics call it land grabbing.

The trend of buying or taking out long-term leases on land first came to prominence during the 2008 world food crisis. As food riots raged across the world, speculators and countries with their own food-security fears quietly sealed deals with African nations. Others call it neocolonialism. More