The New Land Rush
(Page 5 of 6)
In addition to its interest in Africa, China is investing in diverse cropland in Australia and New Zealand and looking to Indonesia for biofuels and to South America for soy for livestock production to feed its increasingly affluent population’s taste for meat and dairy. China’s South American interests are so extensive that some Brazilians, while crediting Chinese investment for their booming economy, fear for their autonomy.
“They are moving in,” Carlo Lovatelli, president of the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries, told the New York Times, “looking for land and reliable partners. But what they would like to do is run the show alone.”
“Some experts,” the Times noted, “say the partnership has devolved into a classic neocolonial relationship in which China has the upper hand.”
Many foreign land investors say that they give back at least as much as they take. “We’ve really created something out of nothing in Africa,” says Anthony Poorter, Africa director for EmVest, the African subsidiary of Emergent Asset Management. “There are no shady deals.”
In areas with hungry people, inadequate roads, and other infrastructural deficiencies, foreign capital is sorely needed to develop more rational farming operations that can promote prosperity, food security, and jobs. And there is little doubt that monoculture industrial farming, genetically engineered seeds, and input from pesticides and chemical fertilizers can more quickly create higher yields than small-scale subsistence farming. Properly managed, supporters of expo-agriculture argue, investment dollars can bring educational opportunities, health care, and the possibility of safer, higher living standards to subsistence farmers and impoverished rural populations.
Some investors also believe they are serving humanity: “Unless food production is boosted 50 percent before 2050,” says Poorter’s boss, Emergent CEO Susan Payne, “we face serious shortages globally.” Her company, which “went on record in 2007 to identify food security as the next energy security,” invests in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is aiming for an annual return of 25 percent or more.
But just as international development aid schemes, such as USAID’s, conform to the geopolitical strategies and economic goals of the dispensing country, private investment is shaped by an inner imperative: the need to turn a profit. Whatever the investors promise, or however decent they are as individuals, their bottom line is the bottom line.
“There is a real risk that the current scramble for land will transfer wealth from the poor and the marginalized to those who have access to capital and markets, with deeply regressive consequences,” warns U.N. Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter.
Backlashes have already occurred. When word leaked that Madagascar planned to sell 3 million acres to the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics, popular outrage quashed the deal and toppled Madagascar’s government. In the Philippines, as food prices were spiking in 2007, outcries from Filipino farmers stopped China from buying 2.5 million acres on which to grow export crops.
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