Screening: Land Rush + Q&A
By Joëlle Pouliot
Land Rush explores the land appropriation debate in Mali. 75% of the population are small-scale traditional farmers who compete with rich nations that lease land, turning large areas into agribusiness farms.
Director Hugo Berkeley and Kate Townsend, executive producer at BBC Storyville, discussed the makings of the film in the context of the Why Poverty? series.
Townsend explained that eight documentaries and 30 short films were produced by broadcasters around the world for the Why Poverty? project, including the BBC:
“They are going to be broadcast globally in at least 72 countries. We’re commencing on the 25th of November with a potential audience that we’re estimating of at least half a billion people. It’s a sequel to the Why Democracy? series that was broadcast by the BBC [in 2007]. We’re building momentum to what we hope will be an amazing achievement”.
Berkeley discussed the challenges he faced when making a film about land grabbing in Africa:
“People come at it with a very fixed opinion of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing … we wanted to speak to the farmers in the region and find out from them … it was trying to keep that impartiality [that] was the most difficult thing in the film, to let the characters decide rather than the production team.”
He added that the issue of land appropriation can no longer be ignored, and that industrialisation in Africa should come with proper legislation to prevent exploitation of the farming population:
“The world food crisis in 2008 showed that this is a world problem. How we feed ourselves isn’t just related to the UK or the USA or to Mali. This is a problem that is going to be increasingly important for the whole world. Particularly in places like India, Saudi Arabia and food-poor countries. They are going to be more and more aggressive; that’s not a tendency that’s going to go away. That would only increase my keenness to see that legislation is in place to make sure that it’s done properly.”
His film highlights how divided Malian farmers are about foreign development projects; some are enthusiastic about change while others are reluctant and view it as an imperialistic threat:
“Malian agricultural policy just flip-flopped all over the place in the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, it was all about getting small farmers to produce rice to feed the country. And then in the late 1990s, they swung wildly in the other direction and said ‘our problem is that we don’t have any industry, so we need industry and factory’. If you’re a farmer in that area, you’re just sort of buffeted around on the winds of whatever is trendy in the development circles.”
Townsend urged the audience to spread the world about the Why Poverty? project:
“We are immensely proud of this body of films. They are meant to be launching pads for debate. Please go onto the website and encourage discussion on the forums. We want this to provoke argument.”
Click here to view the Land Rush trailer.