Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Real Pirates

Further developments from the previous post has been reported in the press .

South Korea's Daewoo Logistics this week announced it had negotiated a 99-year lease on some 3.2 million acres of farmland on Madagascar ,about half the size of Belgium , That's nearly half of Madagascar's arable land, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, and Daewoo plans to put about three quarters of it under corn. The remainder will be used to produce palm oil — a key commodity for the global biofuels market.

In Madagascar, where about 70% of the country's 20 million people live below the poverty line.

The island's residents also rely on WFP emergency food relief programs because of the frequency with which they're struck by cyclones and droughts. Given those hardships, the prospect of a corporate giant growing hundreds of tons of food to be consumed by people and animals in Korea raises "ethical concerns," says David Hallam, head of the FAO'S Trade Policy Service in Rome. "If we have another world food crisis, and you have a poor country where food is produced by foreign investors, and then repatriated, that is ethically and political tricky," Hallam warns.

Al-Qudra Holding, an investment company based in Abu Dhabi, said in August it planned to buy 400,000 hectares of arable land in countries in Africa and Asia by the end of the first quarter of 2009.

It's a modern day version of the 19th-century scramble for Africa, an unsustainable land grab. Along with agribusiness, corporations and food traders, investment banks and private equity funds have been jumping on board, seeing land as a safe haven from the financial storm.

It is difficult to see how such investments can deliver long-term food security. The investors will want a quick return. They will practise an industrial model of agriculture that in many parts of the world has already produced poverty and environmental destruction, as well as farm-chemical pollution. 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.


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