Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The global food crisis of 2007 and 2008 had forced many governments of food deficit countries to redesign their food security strategies. And as a part of that strategy, they fixed their eyes on countries having unexploited or under-utilized vast tracts of fertile arable land as sources of food supply. Even affluent nations found it hard to import food for their populations as a number of countries, including India, Russia, Argentina and Vietnam, imposed ban on export of food grains in 2007 and 2008 when food prices in the international market had gone all-time high.

Land acquisition is not an entirely new phenomenon. The 19th century colonialism was all about taking control over land in other countries. And western food companies have owned or leased land in other countries for many years. But following the food and fuel prices shocks in 2007-08, less traditional actors -- companies from countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea -- have entered the race for growing food or fuel crops. State-owned or private investors from wealthy Arab and Southeast Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea and China, are now approaching many poor Southeast Asian and African nations in their quest for building up cooperative activities in the agriculture sector. Many investment banks, hurt by the crisis in the banking and property sectors, which were looking for new sources of investment outside the banking and property sector, saw opportunities in agricultural land markets, expecting the value of both food and fertile land to increase.

Bangladesh has set its eye on African land where millions of hectares of land have remained either fallow or highly under-utilised for decades after decades. A high-profile official team recently visited a number of African countries to explore scopes for sending Bangladesh manpower and expand areas of cooperation in various fields, including agriculture. The newly appointed ambassador of Bangladesh to Kenya prior to his departure for that country called on President Zillur Rahman last Monday and broke a piece of good news -- Kenya and Uganda have agreed to lease their land to Bangladesh government for farming. Kenya will offer land on lease for 99 years at a cheap price of 99 cents per bigha annually while Uganda wanted 20 per cent of the produce, no annual fees. No agreement between Bangladesh and two African nations have been signed yet. Prior to signing of the agreements, the policymakers here would have to examine a lot of issues, including those relating to sending of farmhands there and their security, input prices and the ways to bring home the farm goods produced in these countries.

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