A graphic published recently in Le Monde reveals that companies from South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the top purchasers of foreign farmland. These corporations from water-strapped, land-starved, and/or densely populated countries often make bargain-basement deals with unsavory African and Asian governments—or even warlords—to increase their own profits and their home nations’ food security.
As previousNew Security Beatposts have pointed out, allowing foreign governments to purchase land could threaten food security within the host country, and around the world. The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development raised eyebrows last weekend when they suggested that these deals could be “win-win” situations, if done right.
These business ventures can also have serious political consequences: Several months ago, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on increasing population growth and limited arable land in its homeland, South Korean conglomerate Daewoo signed a deal to buy more than half of the arable land in Madagascar to grow grain and palm oil. Widespread anger at the terms of the deal—from which the island’s people would gain little—contributed to then-President Marc Ravalomanana’s unpopularity. After weeks of riots, Ravalomanana was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, who immediately axed the deal. “In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled,” Rajoelina told BBC News.
Next month, a Wilson Center event will explore some of the motivations, patterns, and implications of this rush for farmland. Five Wilson Center programs are co-sponsoring this event—demonstrating the global, cross-sectoral implications of this issue.
Photo: Deforestation in Madagascar. Courtesy of Flickr user World Resources Institute Staff and Jonathan Talbot.