Wealthy foreign investors have acquired, or begun negotiating for, an estimated 15 to 20 million hectares of farmland in the developing world – equal to roughly half the size of Newfoundland and Labrador – since 2006. Most of this is in Africa, where the soil is fertile, costs are low and the owners are weak.
Critics are calling it a “global land grab” with neocolonial overtones. The African Union has warned that Africans could be exploited by the massive farmland deals because of their weak bargaining position. Overwhelmed by the rapidly developing trend, they are failing to get sufficient benefits in return, the AU says.
The buyers and leasers of African farmland are the rich and powerful (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates) or the hugely populous and land-hungry (China and India). For all of them, Africa is the jackpot, a region where vast tracts of land are cheap and underutilized.
Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, is a prime target of those hungry for land. But there are plenty of other African targets, too. China is seeking 2 million hectares in Zambia to grow crops for biofuels. Saudi Arabian investors are spending $100-million to acquire land in Ethiopia, $45-million for land in Sudan, and millions more for 500,000 hectares in Tanzania. Libya has secured 100,000 hectares in Mali to grow rice. Qatar has obtained 40,000 hectares in Kenya.
The land deals are a sign of a shift in the world's priorities. Farmland is becoming as much of a strategic resource as oil fields.
Friday, May 8, 2009
A reader from the University of Toronto alerted me to the following article in Tuesday's Globe and Mail on the issue of land acquisition in Africa:
The issue is admittedly one about which I am not too well educated, though now realize I ought to be: implicit in the notion of 'China in Africa' (i.e. the arrival of Chinese in Africa) is the question of how they are acquiring land! Obviously! While the article tends to focus on larger-scale investors, I'd venture to guess that the matter is even more pronounced on the micro scale, with entrepreneurs scrambling for spaces from which to run their shops, restaurants, etc. Chinese in Africa tend not to be particularly active in any farmland activities at present, so my guess is that much of their 'land grabs' center around urban areas. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they began to diversify their interests in the not too distant future. This may well be worth looking into in greater detail.
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, has an interesting editorial on aid in today's FT. Somewhat to my surprise, certain elements of his argument seem to resonate with Bill Easterly's analysis in The White Man's Burden (which I happen to be re-reading at the moment), and Dambisa Moyo's book, Dead Aid, which he outrightly cites:
Dambisa Moyo’s controversial book, Dead Aid, has given us an accurate evaluation of the aid culture today. The cycle of aid and poverty is durable: as long as poor nations are focused on receiving aid they will not work to improve their economies. Some of Ms Moyo’s prescriptions, such as ending all aid within five years, are aggressive. But I always thought this was the discussion we should be having: when to end aid and how best to end it.... Do not get me wrong. We appreciate support from the outside, but it should be support for what we intend to achieve ourselves. No one should pretend that they care about our nations more than we do; or assume that they know what is good for us better than we do ourselves. They should, in fact, respect us for wanting to decide our own fate. [...] Entrepreneurship is the surest way for a nation to meet these goals...
These are quite bold statements for the President to be making, no less so given that Rwanda is one of the world's most aid dependent countries, with foreign assistance averaging US$55 per capita - approximately 23% of the country's GDP. Regardless, Kagame's push for entrepreneurship over aid appears the correct one (perhaps this is why we see Rwanda rising?). While not mutually exclusive, of course, if long-term economic growth and development are the objectives, the former should indubitably trump the latter.