Farmer Bintou Samake plants beans while carrying her son at a farm in Heremakono, Mali, January 22, 2013.
Joe Penney / Reuters

Malian farmer Balima Coulibaly and his fellow villagers could do nothing but watch as Libyan investors, under a deal known as Malibya, took the fertile land that they had farmed for generations. The agreement had moved forward without any discussion of what impact the transfer would have on the impoverished communities living on the land.

"We don't know what will happen to us," said Coulibaly, an aging local leader, sitting on the floor of a sweltering mud house. He lives in Sangha, a village with a population of a few hundred. There, children tie plastic bags to their feet in place of shoes, and everyone lives in mud and straw houses amid the sprawling millet fields. It is one of several communities located inside the Malibya concession.

An advertisement for the Malibya project.
Chris Arsenault / Thomson Reuters Foundation

In 2008, oil-rich Libya, under the leadership of the late Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, signed a 50-year, renewable lease for the land with Mali's government.

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  • CHRIS ARSENAULT covers food security as a senior correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. He has held the Wolfson Press Fellowship at Cambridge University and the Phil Lind Fellowship at the University of British Columbia.
  • Travel financing for this story was provided by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
  • More By Chris Arsenault