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Saskatchewan farmland unappreciated source of riches


Saskatchewan farmland unappreciated source of riches
An editorial in last monday's Saskatoon Star-Phoenix asks why it is that other countries value their farmland, yet most people in Canada and Saskatoon, in particular, do not.

December 15, 2008  By Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

December 15, 2008 

It's been nearly 40 years since Saskatoon songstress Joni Mitchell lamented the paving over of paradise. You'd think we'd have caught on by now.

The largest single category in Saskatoon's recently accepted capital budget was more than $100 million to develop land. Another way to phrase that is to say that the money is going to pave a bigger chunk of paradise.


Saskatchewan has long prided itself on being among the most productive agricultural areas of the world. It was the lure behind the massive migration of people into Saskatchewan a century ago and it was that potential that fuelled the province's innovations in farm equipment and better food products.

But decades of rural depopulation and the global battle over agriculture subsidies have left Saskatchewan with a diminished perception of value of its farmland. The ties to the land of many urbanites have been frayed to little more than barely tolerating the demands for help from rural dwellers to save their towns and shore up their incomes.

It's worth noting, however, that this isn't how much of the rest of the world views what Saskatchewan once held so dear. There is an increasing global demand not only for food, but also for the land that produces it.

Countries that are rich in cash but poor in water and arable land are scouring the world for deals. A report from Australia last week referred to requests from Middle Eastern countries that are flush with petrodollars and want to invest $1 billion in farmland Down Under.

The Associated Press reported last month that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have been dealing on land in Cambodia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, looking to invest in farmland in areas where water is abundant and labour is cheap.

Oil wealth allowed Saudi Arabia to invest so much in food that, for a time, it ignored the environmental impacts of desalinization and mining fossil aquifers for irrigation and grew so much subsidized wheat that it became a net exporter.

The United Arab Emirates has covered over vast stretches of parched desert outside Dubai, growing bell peppers, lilies, roses and strawberries in a climate-controlled, water-saving environment.

But it has become clear to these countries that, no matter how much money they have on hand, it will be impossible to buy their way to food security without locking up better land in other parts of the world. Even with the use of the best technology, the water needed in these desert-based nations to grow their food is draining underground reserves that took millennia to fill.

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