|With many African nations already struggling to feed their own |
population can they afford to lease out much of their limited
fertile land to other countries so that they can secure food supplies?
|Is the increasing need for food and water in the developed world|
driving the 'land grabs'?
The majority of the recent land deals have been characterised by long-term leases; most 99 year renewable agreements that effectively hand the land over in perpetuity at a rate that reflects the historical tradition of establishing plantations in European-owned colonies. Despite the clear parallels between these deals and events in Africa during the late 19th century, there are some fundamental differences with, perhaps, the largest being the driving force. Back in the 19th century, the colonial powers were grabbing territory but the contemporary land acquisition is driven by market forces. Many of these deals are being triggered by the search for food security, biofuels and minerals which has been instigated by food and energy price hikes that have occured over the past 5-10 years. The 2007-2008 food price hike was one of the most signficant and recent and many feel that it was this event that has highlighted just how vulnerable food-importing nations are to fluctuations in the global market (seems to have a similar effect as fluctuations in the price of oil). On the other hand, others feel that because the world food production has stabilised at 50% above what we need (when you consider how many people in the world go hungry everyday surely that only emphasises how much the developed world wastes!) that a move to biofuels is the largest driving force. To a certain extent, statistics support this as the World Bank estimates that 21% of the land deals in 2009 were for biofuel production. With the land extremely cheap there is no shortages of investors and, although not neccessarily proven in reality yet, in theory there should be some benefits for the countries leasing the land. Leasing the land should generate more jobs, lead to better and newer technology, improve infrastructure and attract extra tax revenues, whilst the World Bank agrues that it could also 'jump-start' agricultural growth via large-scale farming - all factors that could kick start cummulative causation and help accelerate development. On the other hand, across Africa, rural dwellers, pastoralists and herdsmen have been forced off of the land they have occupied for generations. Although there is disagreement as to the exact amount of land purchased by international organisations, the epicentre of this trend is, without a doubt, located in Africa. In 2009 alone, the World Bank estimates that 70% of the 45 million hectares of land deals were struck over were in Africa. The International Land Coalition suggests that this figure should be much higher. They estimate that 80 million hectares of land was exchanged, with 64% (so around 50 million hectares) being located in Africa.
Although this seems to be focused in Africa, it is occuring elsewhere and here are a few current case studies:
- January 2011 - A large Chinese rice and soya producer acquired thousands of hectares of soya beans, wheat and oilseed rape in Argentina's Rio Negro province and then shipped the produce back to China. The same organisation have also been reported to have signed an agreement to develop 200,000 hectares of land in the Phillippine province of Luzon. China has also been granted the rights to grow palm oil on 2.8 million hectares of Congolese land. It has been suggested that China operates 80,400 hectares in Siberia, which it purchased for US$21.4million. With China's rather large population, a forever increasing hunger for energy, lack of water security, lack of fertile land and a climate that hinders agricultural growth it probably does not come as much of a surprise that they are one of the main countries involved in the purchasing/leasing of land in developing countries.
- Not 100% sure if this plan is still going ahead but earlier in the year, it was proposed that South African farmers would take over failing state farms in Libya.
- Before Sudan split it leased 376,000 hectares of land to Saudi Arabia to grow wheat and rice. Saudi Arabia have also suggested that Saudi businesses groups should take control of 70% of the rice growing regions in Senegal. Leasing land in Sudan has continued, even after it split and prior to the offical split, South Sudan issued leases on 9% of its land.
- Qatar leased 20,000 hectares of land for fruit and vegetable cultivation in exchange for funding for a US$2.3billion port in Kenya.
- India has invested US$4billion in agriculture, including flower-growing and sugar plantations, in Ethiopia. Again, to most of you, this wont be much of a surprise. India's population is predicted to exceed that of China by 2030, they have even less water security than China, rising sea-levels threaten to claim much land and provoke mass migration from neighbouring Bangladesh and, as they continue to develop, they are consuming more and more energy.
- Madagascar are in negotiations with Daewoo Logistics Corporation, negiotations which are believed to have played a significant role in the political conflict that provoked the overthrow of the government in 2009, to lease 1.3 million hectares of land for maize aand palm oil plantations - a figure that is practically half the country's arable land!
- Countries such as China and Saudi Arabia have shown lots of interesting in leasing land in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and parts of post-Soviet Central Asia. China have been involved in negotiations to lease a million hectares of Kazakhstan farmland for rapeseed and soya production whilst Saudi Arabi are also interested to land there for grain production and cattle raising. It is reported that a British hedge fund, known as Dexion Capital's Global Farming fund, are in the process of trying to raise US$280million to purchase around 1.2million hectares of land in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukrainie along with parts of Latin America and Australia.
|Do the positives outweigh the negatives?|
I think I have focused slightly more on the negatives but there are some positives to such deals and not only for the investors. A lack of money is one of the main factors that restricts countries from developing (i.e think about comparisions in transition speeds of countries through the DTM...) and so the injection of money as a result of the presence of rich countries/companies can allow for the execution of government ambitions to improve health care, education, infrastructure etc and so the quality of life for its people. It can also led to an injection of knowledge into local communties regarding better farming practices, amongst other things, which could eventually lead to mechanisation of farming - a move that was incredibly significant in accelerating the development of those nations considered to be developed today.
Is this an example of modern-day colonialism? Well, I think it is hard to argue that this isn't but hopefully, if managed and controlled accordingly (and better than at present!) it can be colonialism with a difference, colonialism that can benefit both sides. Neocolonialism is an interesting idea, which presents positives and negatives and is, understandably so, a debated topic that I am guessing is going to come up at some point during our current module. What do you think? Can these land grabs every truly benefit everyone? Can they every be both environmentally and socially sustainable? How closely does this echo the 'scramble to Africa' by colonial powers in the 19th century? Do you think Neocolonialism is a good idea - should it be encouraged? Is this the future for countries with growing populations and limited resources? Will this help or hinder Africa's development? Let me know what you think!