Over the past couple of years, there has been quite a bit of attention paid to the purchase of massive amounts of agricultural land by rich countries and corporate entities in the developing world. Craig Mackintosh wrote about this on this site, as have many other very informative reports and press stories.
To summarize, there has been approximately US$100 Billion mobilized to purchase somewhere between 40 – 50 million hectares (roughly 100 – 125 million acres) of agricultural land worldwide.
Quoting a recent article published by The Financial Times on July 27, 2010, World Bank warns about the ‘farmland grab’ trend:
Investors in farmland are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments, according to the draft of a report by the World Bank.
“Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance,” the draft said. Although deals promised jobs and infrastructure, “investors failed to follow through on their investments plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base”.
In addition, “the level of formal payments required was low”, making speculation a key motive for purchases. “Payments for land are often waived … and large investors often pay lower taxes than smallholders … or none at all.”[A World Bank study entitled] ‘The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?’ is the broadest study yet of the so-called “farmland grab”, in which countries invest in overseas land to boost their food security, or investors – who are mostly locals – buy arable land. The “farmland grab” trend gained notoriety after an attempt in 2008 by South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics to secure a large chunk of land in Madagascar for a very low price and vague promises of investment. The deal contributed to a coup d’état in the African country." – farmlandgrab.org
A couple of excellent examinations of this issue has been published by The Oakland Institute. They are:
- (Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation in the Global Land Grab
- The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor
This topic has also been featured by news outlets such as Al-Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Program "Land Grab or Investment":
What is, in essence, the primary driver behind these land deals is identified in a UK Telegraph article titled ‘Britain facing food crisis as world’s soil ‘vanishes in 60 years’, which was published on February 3, 2010. Quoting from the article, which followed the Carbon Farming conference that took place in Borenore, NSW Australia November 2009:
An estimated 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost annually with more than 80 per cent of the world’s farming land "moderately or severely eroded", the Carbon Farming conference heard.
A University of Sydney study, presented to the conference, found soil is being lost in China 57 times faster than it can be replaced through natural processes.
In Europe that figure is 17 times, in America 10 times while five times as much soil is being lost in Australia.
Soil is also a valuable store of carbon and can release the greenhouse gas if it is ploughed or dug up.
The conference heard world soil, including European and British soils, could vanish within about 60 years if drastic action was not taken.
This will lead to a global food crisis, chronic food shortages and higher prices, the conference heard.
Despite better than average farming practices, European soil might last for 100 years if no further damage occurs worldwide, scientists said.
In reality, however, increased land pressures aimed at compensating global production losses would likely mean it will run out faster, they added. – telegraph.co.uk
The issues connected to the Global Land Grab controversy are directly linked to those of the global Earth Repair/Ecosystem Restoration Work (ERW) agenda. ERW has yet to be seriously discussed as means by which the global ecological dilemma and degrading of natural capital can be effectively addressed.
The attempts made to purchase these vast amounts of arable land speaks to the manner in which investors treat natural capital like financial capital. The impression given is that the ecological problem is something that can be avoided by buying our collective way out of the situation. The rich and wealthy are mostly woefully ignorant of how to manage & use natural capital. This is where those acquainted with ERW techniques and strategies can provide an indispensable service.
I was invited to speak at a socially responsible/triple bottom line investors conference taking place in London November 2010. The event is being put on by TBLI (Triple Bottom Line Investment). I intend on addressing this very issue in my presentation entitled: "Economic Support for Global Earth Repair Work and Ecological Restoration – Making The Case".