China, Korea, Saudi Arabia Lead Global Land Rush To Buy Farmland In Other Countries

By Stephen Leahy*

conversion of US grasslandANCHORAGE, Alaska, USA, May 5 (Tierramérica)

More than 20 million hectares of farmland in Africa and Latin America are now in the hands of foreign governments and companies, a sign of a global “land grab” that got a boost from last year’s food crisis.

Rich countries that are short on land or water at home are looking to secure food-producing lands elsewhere as a way to ensure food security for their populations, said Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“There is a major lack of transparency in these land deals,” von Braun said in a telephone press conference from Washington.

The IFPRI study, “‘Land Grabbing’ by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries,” by von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, which was presented last week, estimates that 15 to 20 million hectares have been acquired or are in the process of being sold.

Von Braun pointed out that this is equivalent to about 25 percent of all the farmland in Europe.

Because hard data is difficult to come by – the study was based primarily on information from press reports – IFPRI conservatively estimates that the deals represent 20 to 30 billion dollars being invested by China, South Korea, India and the Gulf States, mainly in Africa.

“About one-quarter of these investments are for biofuel plantations,” von Braun said.

China's badlandsChina started leasing land for food production in Cuba and Mexico 10 years ago and has extensive holdings in Africa, including pending or attempted deals for millions of hectares in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Tanzania, with many thousands of Chinese workers brought in to work on these lands, according to the report.

The largest foreign ownership or control of African farmland is in Sudan – in this case a group of Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. Last year, the United Arab Emirates negotiated several farmland deals with Pakistan. Qatar has agricultural land in Indonesia, the Philippines, Bahrain, Kuwait and Burma.

The huge Korean company Daewoo Logistics Corporation signed a deal to lease 1.3 million hectares in Madagascar to grow maize and oil palm, which reportedly played a role in the political conflicts that led to the overthrow of the government in 2009, the report noted.

“The number of land deals is much higher than the IFPRI numbers. No one is monitoring all the private land deals,” says Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a Barcelona-based non-governmental organisation dedicated to global agricultural issues.

GRAIN published its own “Land Grab” report six months ago, concluding that rich countries are buying poor countries’ soil fertility, water and sun to ship food and fuel back home, in a kind of neo-colonial dynamic.

Kuyek told Tierramérica that this 21st-century land rush is driven in part by countries that no longer want to be held hostage by the big, multinational food trading companies.

But increasingly the private capital is coming from pension funds, which are staking their bets on farmland as the next profitable commodity to invest in after the collapse of the global stocks and financial sector and continuing weak prices for oil and metals.

A huge chunk of the Australian cattle industry is now owned by a private equity firm. The two biggest pork producers in China are owned by Goldman Sachs (a private investment firm),” Kuyek said.

As a result, he noted, ranchers and farmers have turned into employees.

For full article see: AGRICULTURE: Foreigners Lead Global Land Rush.

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