Will an avalanche of private money help or hurt Africa?

"TRADE NOT AID".  Increasingly that's the catch-cry of some politicians and rock stars such as Bob Geldoff, when discussing Africa's future.  But will trade and private investment save Africa -- or merely open it up to predatory exploitation?

  Tough choices ahead...  (photo by William Laurance)

Tough choices ahead... (photo by William Laurance)

That's a pressing question because Africa is in the midst of an investment gold-rushChina is investing over $100 billion annually just in African mining

Investors from India, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia are now pouring funds into ventures ranging from minerals and oil to infrastructure and timber. 

In the midst of this tidal wave, it's worthwhile to consider the trials and tribulations of one major effort to bring private investment to Africa -- a campaign that ultimately precipitated the suicide of the main investor, who had been heavily criticized for his efforts.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, writer Christiane Badgley tells the story of the U.S. corporation Herakles Farms and its ongoing attempt to establish a massive oil palm plantation in Cameroon.

But despite the almost-messianic leadership of its director Bruce Wrobel, Herakles Farms has come under fire both within Cameroon and internationally.

ALERT member Joshua Linder played an important role in this story, with help from other ALERT researchers including Tom Struhsaker, Tom Lovejoy, Corey Bradshaw, Lian Pin Koh and Bill Laurance. 

These scientists helped to raise the alarm about this project and its potential to have grave environmental impacts in a global biodiversity hotspot.

The issue of aid versus private investment for developing nations is not a simple one, but anyone thinking seriously about this issue needs to read Badgley's article. 

For Africa -- in the midst of an investors' feeding frenzy -- there are few easy answers and many dangers ahead.