Sowing the seeds of regret?
By Globe and Mail
Sowing the seeds of regret?
Concerns that so-called "have" nations are purchasing farmland from "have nots" are regarded as little more than a land grab in some circles, and should be dealt with sooner rather than later, according to Globe and Mail columnist Eric Reguly.
June 1, 2009
ROME -If July's Group of Eight summit in Italy is looking for an issue beyond the recession, offshore farms is it. Denounced by some as neocolonialism or land grabs, praised by others as delivering investment to poor countries, this form of food outsourcing is in sore need of an international code of conduct, all the more so since it is spreading rapidly and is bound to involve Canada at some point.
International farm investment, to use its blandest description, has become a phenomenon in recent years and new reports about its "risks and opportunities," to use an even blander United Nations description, are filling agricultural and rural-development watchdog websites.
The concept is simple. Countries short of productive agricultural land but rich in capital are acquiring farmland in countries, most of them poor, with land to spare, or allegedly so. In many cases, the food grown on the farms is effectively removed from the world market and exported back to the country that did the deal. Not surprisingly, China and OPEC's Middle East members, which have more oil than irrigation water, are the most prolific deal makers and Africa is their juiciest target.
A fresh report commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that 2.5 million hectares, an area almost the size of Belgium, has been acquired since 2004 in five African countries alone.
A recent report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington says between 15 million and 20 million hectares of farmland in poor countries has been snapped up by foreigners since 2006. The land, it says, is worth as much as $30-billion (US). Offshore farms are a big, global business.
As far as anyone can tell, China pioneered the offshore farm game about 10 years ago, when it leased land for food production in Mexico and Cuba. The acquisition pace has quickened in recent years because of rising commodity prices, culminating in the "food crisis" of 2007 and 2008, when mass starvation seemed a real possibility.
While the oil price collapse and the record production of some crops have since downgraded the crisis, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, India, South Korea and other countries short of farmland are taking the long-term view. They have burgeoning populations, are short of water and realize food prices could resume their upward trajectory at any time.
So they are preparing for the worst and snapping up land wherever they can find it.
See the complete story at: Putting a value on farmland -now