Seventy-five percent of Mali's population are farmers, but rich, land-hungry nations like China and Saudi Arabia are leasing Mali's land in order to turn large areas into agribusiness farms. Many Malian peasants do not welcome these efforts, seeing them as yet another manifestation of imperialism. As Mali experiences a military coup, the developers are scared off - but can Mali's farmers combat food shortages and escape poverty on their own terms? Land Rush premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty? series special on Global Voices.
Before working on Land Rush with Hugo Berkeley (co-director of Land Rush), questions relating to the global food system, international agricultural policy, and the sale of arable land in the South were abstract for me. Certainly the 2008 global food crisis, with its scenes of rioting, had shocked me. But I didn’t fully grasp the global scale of the crisis and what it meant for each one of us. Once I started filming Land Rush, these issues became unavoidable.
My own perception of events collided with the reality of Malian farmers and the agribusiness corporation Sosumar. They were no longer distant or unknown names, but people made of flesh and bone, whose fate hung perilously in the balance. I discovered the invisible thread that connects disparate points on the globe, that binds Malian farmers to the thousands of people around the world who must fight to keep their heads above water, yet who ultimately discover that they have been excluded from the ways of the modern world. They are excluded by those who believe that only finance and the need to generate large profits must prevail.
I also realized that sometimes the reality is less Manichean than I would like to think. For some, the sale of farmland is a new form of colonial dependence, for others it is the last resort to get out of entrenched and deepening poverty. I saw farmers eager to sell their land, and others panicked at the idea of leaving the only place they've ever known. I met some agro-industrialists truly worried about the fate of these populations, those who believe that profit should benefit all stakeholders. I also met people convinced by the goodness of their own actions, when every sign indicated otherwise.
For me, Land Rush was an extraordinary adventure. Throughout filming, I had to rethink many of my beliefs and reframe others in a new light. When a film asks you so many questions, it is an opportunity you cannot wait to share! Land Rush premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty?series special on Global Voices.
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