Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Great Agricultural Land Grab

What do you do if your country has an increasing population, a lack of agricultural land and lots of cash? The standard answer coming from the CEO's of large corporations in the developed world is "give us money to develop more productive crops. We developed 'miracle rice' back in the 60's and with sufficient development funds we can save you again."

Increasingly, however, it appears that these countries are opting for an alternative solution: shopping for agricultural land in even less developed countries. When I visited my daughter last Christmas, she had this fascinating map up on her wall. Taken from an article in The Guardian, it graphically depicts the location of various land purchases made by several wealthy developing countries: China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emerits. Convinced they will not be able to provide the food necessary for their future populations, they have started to invest heavily in countries with historically unproductive agricultural lands like Sudan and Ethiopia, with the intent of using the land to support their burgeoning populations. A number of people have questioned the ethics of such actions since these African countries are already unable to feed their populations and, hence, can ill afford to use their land for export crops.

Thanks to the efforts of the folks at Grain and their related website (, these developments are receiving an increasing amount of attention. The recent NYTimes Magazine article 'Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism' provides a good overview of the issue.

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