Africa Land Grab

By Tom Drake

The limitations of fossil fuels are now well recognised but the rise of biofuels as an alternative has lead to a startling turn of events.

Biofuel

crops compete with food crops for agricultural land. Concern at the

rising price of food (also caused by biofuel competition) as well as

the potential for making profit is leading developed countries to buy up vast tracts of land in developing countries, especially Africa .

The

South Korean firm Daewoo made headlines recently when it sought a

99-year lease on 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar to grow maize and

oil palm. The deal is far from unusual. A number of companies are

growing sugar cane in Tanzania,

for example, to make bioethanol for European countries to meet European

Union targets. This year, investors from Gulf states initiated so many

farm projects in Africa and south-east Asia that the UN Food and

Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged caution to prevent a political backlash.

Population

growth and dwindling oil supplies are predicted to make farmland the

strategic resource that oilfields are now. China has 20 per cent of the

world’s people and only 9 per cent of the farmland. According to analysis

by the NGO Grain, Chinese companies and the government have leased or

purchased 2 million hectares of foreign farmland since 2007.

The

list of investing countries is extensive and growing: ” Egypt is

investing in Sudan ; Libya in Ukraine ; Saudi Arabia in Thailand ;

China in Africa, the Philippines and Russia ,” says Joachim von Braun,

head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in

Washington DC .

All

of this points towards an incredibly worrying expansion of

Neocolonialism. Appropriating landusing the modern fashion of money

and lawyers rather than guns and flags. The poor of today are

subtleydisenfranchised, the right to farm the land in their own

country is controlled by corporations and now States in far away parts

of the world.

We

have already seen African countries exporting food even when in times

of famine. This looks set to increase as climate change will affect the

poorest, technologically least equipped farmers first. As shortages of

food arise disputes could escalate into violence and even war.

Proponents

of foreign investment say it will improve farming ability and make use

of previously unused land. While in some cases this may be true these

are relatively short-term benefits. The ownership and means to profit

from the land and the work done will be essential to the long term

development of African nations.

While

we have met the dilemma of foreign investment in Africa before, the

emergence of state investors on a large scale is a critical and

alarming development.

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.