Food sovereignty Part 1: Land Grabs Rich vs Poor
This is just the week for me to be pissed off at the world, apparently.
Farm Land Grab One of the best resources, but is having bandwidth troubles.
For over a year a half now, we have been watching carefully how investors are trying to take control of farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America as a response to the food and financial crises. In the beginning, during the early months of 2008, they talked about getting these lands for “food security”, their food security. Gulf State officials began flying around the globe looking for large areas of cultivable land that they could acquire to grow rice to feed their burgeoning populations without relying on international trade. So too were Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians and others. In most of these talks, high-level government representatives were directly involved, peddling new packages of political, economic and financial cooperation with agricultural land transactions smack in the centre.
But then, towards July 2008, the financial crisis grew deeper, and we noticed that alongside the “food security land grabbers” there was a whole other group of investors trying to get hold of farmland in the South: hedge funds, private equity groups, investment banks and the like. They were not concerned about food security. They figured that there is money to be made in farming because the world population is growing, food prices are bound to stay high over time, and farmland can be had for cheap. With a little bit of technology and management skills thrown into these farm acquisitions, they get portfolio diversification, a hedge against inflation and guaranteed returns — both from the harvests and the land itself.
To date, more than 40 million hectares have changed hands or are under negotiation — 20 million of which in Africa alone. And we calculate that over $100 billion have been put on the table to make it happen. Despite the governmental grease here or there, these deals are mainly signed and carried out by private corporations, in collusion with host country officials. GRAIN has compiled various sample data sets of who the land grabbers are and what the deals cover, but most of the information is kept secret from the public, for fear of political backlash.
And where is this happening?
The phenomenon better known as ‘land grabbing’ i.e.: Large-scale purchase or lease of farmland (often packaged as ‘idle’, ‘under-utilised’ and ‘uncultivated’) in ‘land-rich developing’ regions has catalysed a policy shift from geostrategic control over food production (institutionalised via structurally unjust trading mechanisms underpinning bodies such as the World Trade Organization), to that of sovereignty.
Whereas the US$1 billion per day in protectionist (Northern) subsidies served to artificially depreciate the price of primary commodities from developing regions, ‘land grabs’ are motivated by the intent of developed governments in ‘land-poor’ nations and representative corporate entities – composing over 50 per cent of the world’s largest economies, to secure exclusive rights to the assets used to produce food.
Indian farming companies have bought hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegaland and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils for their home market.
Devinder Sharma, of India’s Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, said the companies buying up African land to export food were “food pirates” and compared them with English companies that shipped food from Ireland during the 19th-century potato famine.
Its government has given just under €585m of loans to support the ventures.MORE
But is the land really idle and currently unused? Are small-scale farmers going to be “tractored out” in a murky neo-colonial “land grab”?
Food-importing countries that lack land and water but are rich in capital, such as the Gulf States, are initiating deals to produce food in developing countries, where land and water are more abundant and production costs much lower.
Vast tracts of land and huge amounts of money are involved: 15 million to 20 million hectares, almost equivalent to the total area under cultivation in Germany, according to analysts at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Investment so far adds up to $20 billion to $30 billion, dwarfing foreign aid budgets for agriculture.
Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, warned on Thursday that biofuels remain an important driver behind big land acquisitions and land leases in poor countries that jeopardize local inhabitants’ food security.
About one-fifth of the activities that Mr. De Schutter deemed “land grabs” – often backed by hedge funds or sovereign wealth funds – are projects in parts of Africa and Asia aimed at growing crops to make feedstock for biofuels.
“There still is a vast market for first-generation agrofuels,” said Mr. De Schutter, who added that he considered the safeguards adopted by the European Union in 2008 “absolutely insufficient to monitor to the impacts on the countries concerned by shifts in land use for agrofuels production.”MORe
The sudden rush for these “land grabs” – prompted primarily by the global food crisis – is threatening food security and the livelihoods of some 1.5 billion small farmers worldwide, according to the study titled “The Great Land Grab”, released early this week.
Between 2006 and mid-2009, some 37 million to 49 million acres of farmland have changed hands or are under negotiation.
A number of rich investors in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Korea, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have either been buying land or negotiating to buy land in Sudan, Pakistan, Madagascar, Cambodia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to raise food crops in an attempt to beat future food shortages in their own home countries.
In an editorial titled “Cornering Foreign Fields”, the London Economist said last May that as much as 20 million hectares of farmland worth some 20 to 30 billion dollars has been quietly handed over to capital-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China.
For a start, the Economist said, most deals are shrouded in mystery – “rarely a good sign, especially in countries riddled with corruption”.
Stuffed and Starved links to the fact that :
African countries aren’t the only ones where you can see land grabs. If you live in Asia, the sport of the rich can also be seen there. In Pakistan, a new website Zamana tells of the larceny happening there, even though the country is already at extreme risk of hunger… Predictably, the World Bank and IMF are up to their necks in this mess. Important reading.
Last August Hassad Food, a year-old agricultural finance company owned by the government of Qatar, announced that the tiny Middle East emirate’s primary food security investment group would change its funding strategy. Instead of securing its food supply principally by purchasing tens of thousands of acres of arable land in Africa, Asia, and Europe – a global trend that has stirred international concern and a grassroots backlash in some of the planet’s poorest agricultural regions — Hassad Food would invest in food and farm companies.
“In many cases these deals are not win-win situations,” Nasser Mohamed Al Hajri, the company’s chairman, told reporters. “We don’t want to be in a situation where the rich are taking away food and land of the poor.”
But late last month Hassad Foods changed course again. The company signed a roughly $1 billion agreement to develop farmland in Sudan, a north African nation emerging from civil war and with millions of acres of arable land that is being eyed for food production by water- and resource-scarce nations on other continents. MORE
And in South America, though I couldn’t find any stand alone articles in my quick search. Most of the attention seems to have fallen on Africa, as it seems to be worst affected.
GRAINS which sesribesitself as
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Our support takes the form of independent research and analysis, networking at local, regional and international levels, and fostering new forms of cooperation and alliance-building. Most of our work is oriented towards, and carried out in, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In the meantime…here’s video though I wish that groups like GRAIN were interviewed:
Riz Khan – Land Grab or Investment – 19 Nov 09 – Part 1
Some of the countries in Africa may be among the world’s pporest but their lush farmlands and natural resources are the envy of more prosperous nations, mostly in Western Europe and the Middle east.
They say African farmland represents a new economic opportunity but are new investments in African resources simply a land grab at the expense of the people living there?
Riz Khan – Land Grab or Investment – 19 Nov 09 – Part 2
In his Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis teases out the mechanisms of famine in British-ruled 19th century India. When a drought would wipe out a grain harvest in one region of India, the price of grain would spike. People all over the subcontinent would suddenly find themselves priced out of grain markets—even in places where grain harvests went well. Grain would then flow out of India to the “mother country,” where people could afford it, and literally millions of Indians would starve. That’s one way relatively minor natural disasters become vast human catastrophes.
Devastatingly, Davis details how the British Empire (wittingly or not) used these eminently avoidable famines to consolidate its grip over the Indian Raj.
I got to thinking of Davis’ dark masterpiece while reading Andrew Rice’s excellent, nuanced report, “Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism?,” in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
Rice follows the gusher of money flowing from cash-rich, arable-land-poor countries like Saudi Arabia to buy up or lease farmland in Africa.
One thing that strikes me is the disconnect in what we hear about the quality of African farmland from rich investors, and what we hear about it from rich philanthropists.
Gates Foundation rhetoric makes Africa sound like a basket case, land-wise: references to “depleted” or “degraded” soils.
We hear relatively little about the continent’s vast agricultural assets—which wealthy investors are now busily snapping up. Andrew Rice visits Africa’s “billion-acre Guinea Savannah zone,” which he describes as “a crescent-shaped swath that runs east across Africa all the way to Ethiopia, and southward to Congo and Angola. “The World Bank and the FAO have declared the tract “one of the earth’s last large reserves of underused land,” Rice reports.
It evidently won’t be for long. A stampede of investors, ranging from governments like Saudi Arabia’s to U.S. hedge funds, are moving in. And many of the region’s pro-Westen, “modernizing” governments are inviting them. Ethiopia, for example, is planning to lease out 3.5 million acres of prime farmland to foreign interests for 50 cents an acre, Rice reports.MORE
La Vida Locavore says
"Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?" The article correctly looks at the huge farm land grab going on these days, and they are right on to point out Middle Eastern countries buying up land in Africa. But what about the other type of agro-imperialism? The type where we look to poor people in other countries as "markets" for our farm inputs (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides), so they can produce commodity crops to sell for cheap to our corporations.
Which leads us into next week.