Land Grabbing is not new. Companies from wealthy countries have always sought low-cost land for agricultural production. Today, governments allocate funds to domestic companies that wish to invest in land overseas. Governments did not provide this type of financial support for much of the last century, but are doing so now in manner reminiscent of colonial practices. In 2007, after the subprime crisis, capital moved to food commodity markets and prices increased. The price rally coincided with a decrease in exports from some food producing countries. Countries that historically have been vulnerable to these fluctuations sought new food security strategies. The Arab states were the first to move, followed closely by others seeking new and profitable business ventures. The financial risk to the companies involved in Land Grabbing is almost nonexistent. Governments, motivated by food security concerns, allocate the initial funds to be invested overseas. The EU provides funding to other companies that will produce materials overseas that make it possible to comply with EU “green policies” for biofuel production. The World Bank and the IMF also provide companies with funding, and it is possible to purchase insurance against loss that may result from stability issues in the country where the funds are invested. These land use decisions are made far away from the land itself, and even further from the people whose lives and livelihoods are rooted in the land. To investigate these issues in Ethiopia was a natural choice because it is a country where more than six million people survive because of UN food aid, while it exports agricultural products cultivated on land leased to foreign investors. A paradox.

At the end of March 2011, together with a CNN troupe and two journalist colleagues I reached Misrata on board a Libyan fishing boat sailing from Malta. We were the first foreign correspondents to document the siege of the city, that by then had been going on for 80 days.


The small Dyker Heights district is located between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, areas of NYC densely populated by second or third generation Italian immigrants, to whom the Christmas lights tradition here is attributed. They start decorating their homes, shortly after Thanksgiving, with setups that can cost as much as thirty or forty thousand dollars. Over the years the extravagant displays have become “the tour of the lights”, a tourist attraction for visitors not only from NY and the US but from all over the world – so much so that the residents have started to organize fund collections for various charitable associations. The Polizzotto family, for instance, donate their makings to the make a Wish Foundation, an international organization which turns dreams into reality for children suffering from cancer. It was the head of this family, Alfred Polizzotto, who decided, after being diagnosed with his illness, to decorate his home as a way of raising awareness and bringing the Christmas atmosphere to his district. Together with the Spata, Lambrone and Rizzuto families – and the many others who have joined over the years, such as the Boormans, of Irish and Scottish origins - “the Polizzottos still maintain this tradition”, as Alfred’s grandson proudly affirms.