New Internationalist

The really ugly face of capitalism

I remember reading a number of reports towards the end of last year of rich countries buying land for food and water in the Global South. The land purchases were seen as both short- and long-term investments for the future needs of buyer countries. The Guardian reported that countries like South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi were buying land in Madagascar, Indonesia and the Sudan, while at the same time sellers were eagerly ready to lease or sell their country's future for short-term development projects and oil leases. 

A report from Grain spells out the problem of addressing the present and future needs of local farmers and communities in more detail, with 100 examples of land-grabbing for agriculture:

'The food-hungry land-grabbers include China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Those giving up their land in exchange for the oil deals or investments include the Philippines, Mozambique, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Uganda, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.'

It is not just countries that are grabbing land; a host of corporations are in on the act too. Many of them are familiar names from the recent financial crisis in the US and UK, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The deal in Madagascar is with the South Korean motor and electronics company, Daewoo Logistics, who intend to buy a million hectares on a 99 year lease. Their aim is 'to grow five million tonnes of corn by 2023'. One recent case is particularly disturbing. A US business man, Philippe Heilberg, recently 'gained rights' to 400,000 hectares of land in Sudan from the son of a Sudanese warlord, Paulino Matip. The report states the man is backed by the CIA and the US State Department. The language used by Heilberg is extremely offensive. He seems to be investing on the back of people's suffering, claiming he is particularly interested in countries which may soon 'break up':

'You have to go to the guns, this is Africa... If you bet right on the shifting of sovereignty then you are on the ground floor. I am constantly looking at the map and looking if there is any value.'

Given that many African countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, are unable to provide enough food for their own people, it is positively obscene to sell off land to feed others. The encroachment by foreign governments and multinationals onto the agricultural land and water supplies of African communities could spell serious problems in the future. What will people do when they are hungry but are faced with a barbed wire fence protecting the food of the rich Western and Middle Eastern countries? Africa has enough wars related to the exploitation of its natural mineral and oil resources. Now the possibility of further conflict arises with this new scramble for Africa.  

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