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Who profits from current global land grab?
In what’s being increasingly referred to as the next global land grab, industrialized nations are scrambling to acquire arable lands in many of the world’s developing nations in order to meet growing demand for food and biofuels at home.
Sue Branford for the Guardian describes how the acquisition of foreign land for crop production is being seen as both politically and financially strategic. With fears of an impending global food shortage due to climactic shifts, both private firms and government entities are reaching for distant lands in hopes of turning a profit in an unstable market and averting potential domestic upheavals over food price and supply. These land grabs can be highly problematic – starting with a foundational issue – many of these lands are home to people and livelihoods.
“Furthermore, many local communities will be evicted to make way for the foreign takeover. The governments and investors will argue that jobs will be created and some of the food produced will be made available for local communities, but this does not disguise what is essentially a process of dispossession. Lands will be taken away from smallholders or forest dwellers and converted into large industrial estates connected to distant markets.”
The recent international rush for fertile Brazilian lands is analyzed by the Guardian's Tom Phillips. The Japanese, Saudis, Iranians, and Chinese are all hoping to make Brazil a home for crops that, once harvested, will be sent home to domestic markets hungry for cheap grain, soybeans, meat, sugar and corn. Some in the Brazilian capital see this scramble for land as a pending ‘foreign invasion.’ Due to this influx of land sales, national average prices for land have risen about 20% over the last year.
"Rules have to be set down quickly because everybody is fighting for Brazilian land," cautioned Rolf Hackbart, the president of Brazil's Land Reform agency, Incra.
The country of Laos is already reeling from the aggressive land deals which have inundated its political and social superstructures. Politicians and power brokers in the country are eager to profit from the steady stream of foreign land acquisitions that are quickly permeating the Southeast Asian country. As reported in the Guardian by Ian MacKinnon, corruption is rampant as government pockets are being lined with money from poorly regulated land transactions which have dearly cost both the State and its people.
MacKinnon reports that this land bonanza has resulted in “…village farmers [being] stripped of their holdings for minimal compensation. In a country where most are subsistence farmers living on less than $2 (£1.33) a day, some can no longer feed themselves.”
Recognizing that the land granting system was out of control, the Laotian prime minister, Bouasone Bouphavanh, declared a moratorium on large land concession allocations "to address the shortcomings of our previous strategy". But this measure has been ignored.
The world’s attention to the issue of these large land deals has become focused with what is being acknowledges as the largest foreign land acquisition of its kind. The Guardian's Billy Head reports from Madagascar where he takes a look at the possible effects on local livelihoods from a 99 year-lease by South Korean firm Daewoo of 1m ha of arable land. Head begins his report by stating that “Land rights are a sensitive topic in Madagascar, as in much of post-colonial Africa.” The historical perspective on foreign land grabs of the African continent still hold much weight.
The land deal is being touted by both Daewoo representatives and government officials as a win-win situation. The land is expected to be used mainly for growing corn, most of which will be sent to South Korean markets, but some will remain in Madagascar for immediate consumption and also as famine reserves. There is however, some doubt as to whether the people of Madagascar, a primarily rice eating nation, will take to corn. Some of the profits from the lease will be used to improve the island nation’s infrastructure, which is annually ravaged by monsoonal flooding.
In another article on the historic Madagascar land deal by Julian Borger for the Guardian, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf is quoted as referring to the explosion of transnational land acquisition as a form of ‘neo colonialism.’ The size of the land lease in Madagascar is incredible according to international land development consultant Carl Atkin. "In the context of arable land sales, this is unprecedented," Atkin said. "We're used to seeing 100,000-hectare sales. This is more than 10 times as much."
As more countries attempt to woo potential buyers to their fertile lands, it will be the small community farmers who will lose out on this deal. Most of these rural land holders have no official title to their land and without that, their land may be as good as grabbed.
As reported in the Guardian, massive land deals/grabs are propagating across the globe:
- 2007 – Chinese companies given access to 1.24m ha in Philippines to grow crops
- May 2008 – China approves deal to farm 80,000 ha in Russia. In exchange for oil and gas, Libya is granted access to 250,000 ha in the Ukraine.
- August 2008 – Saudi investment consortium pursues $4bn deal to farm 500,000 ha of basmati rice in Indonesia for Saudi consumption.
- September 2008 – Vietnam approves deal for Qatar to produce food on Vietnamese territory for Qatari consumption.
- November 2008 – South Korean firm Daewoo is granted 99 year lease on 1m ha of land in Madagascar.
- 2009 – A United Arab Emirates investment firm is poised to acquire 400,000 ha of land in several countries including Egypt, Australia and Pakistan
Read the full articles at the Guardian online:
- 'Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply' by Julian Borger
- 'Deal brings many jobs, but at what price?' by Billy Head
- 'The resentment rises as villagers are stripped of holdings and livelihoods' by Ian McKinnon
- 'Food crisis leading to an unsustainable land grab' by Sue Branford
- 'Rush to buy sends prices soaring' by Tom Phillips
Posted By Lopaka Purdy at 2:38pm on December 01, 2008
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