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Wealthy Nations Privatizing Farmland Abroad

The race for global farmland is officially underway. The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that wealthy nations lacking the farmland to support their own populations are beginning to purchase farmland in fertile foreign nations for private food production. The Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar are pursuing land deals in Cambodia worth billions of dollars. The wealthy island nation of Japan has bought up plots in Brazil, South Korea, and large tracts in Madagascar.

By purchasing agricultural land abroad, wealthy countries can privately grow food for their populations on foreign soil and ship it directly home—bypassing global food markets. This is a disturbing continuation of unsustainable living practices coupled with the privitization of the world’s natural resources.

From the article:

While it may bring succor to countries squeezed by high prices, it may also incite conflict and poverty, some experts warn. In August, Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, warned against creating a kind of food “neocolonialism,” with rich countries securing food supplies at the expense of poor farmers.

[…]

The marriage of rich countries seeking land and poor countries seeking cash has accelerated since 2007, goaded by troubling statistics: as populations rise globally by 1 to 2 percent, agricultural production is not keeping pace. Investment has slumped, and farmland is disappearing as nations transform countrysides into urban centers.

The result has been a quiet but dramatic redrawing of the world’s land ownership. China may have a lot of land mass, but much of the arable land it has is rapidly being turned over to industrial use, and tens of millions of its former farmers have moved to the cities for work. So it now is negotiating deals to buy more than 2 million hectares of land in countries as far flung as Mexico, Tanzania, and Australia. The United Arab Emirates is seeking some 800,000 hectares in Pakistan alone, while Saudi Arabia is negotiating for 1.6 million hectares in Indonesia, according to statistics compiled by Grain, an environmental organization based in Spain.

Such deals may look good on paper, bringing cash and possibly technology transfers. But many in Cambodia – as elsewhere – are concerned. They worry that poor countries could undercut their ability to feed themselves by selling land, especially in times of food crisis.

“We still need to develop our agricultural technology on our own land,,” says Meas Nee, country director of Village Focus International, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on farmers’ livelihoods. “If this kind of investment is not carefully planned, all the investment will be done at the expense of the rural poor and farmers.”

Another concern is that land may be unfairly taken away from farmers. Cambodia is already reeling from extensive land disputes, and local newspapers daily report on cases of poor farmers being kicked off their land. In many cases, local police and government officials are said to be responsible, making way for private businesses to set up agricultural projects.

Read the full article here, shiver, and then go join your local CSA. If you don’t have a local CSA, read Elizabeth Henderson’s book Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, and start one of your own.


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