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The grab for Africa’s farmland

Investors have been buying up fertile soil on the world’s poorest continent. Food security, not commercial gain, is behind most of the deals, a new study concludes. Javier Blas reports.

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Only a short time ago, African farmland seemed of little interest to outsiders. But last year’s food crisis and water scarcity in many countries has changed foreigners’ appetite with the result being that fertile soil in Africa is now sought by international investors to the tune of hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The first big report on the trend – branded by some as “farmland grab”, but seen by others as a huge development opportunity – concludes that food security, rather than commercial enterprise, is behind most of the deals sealed or negotiated.

“Governments concerned about stability of food supplies are promoting acquisition of farmland in foreign countries as an alternative to purchasing food from international markets,” the report says. “The food price hikes of 2007 and 2008 shook the assumption that the world will continue to experience low food prices.”

Alarmed by exporters’ trade restrictions, food importing countries have realised that their dependence on the agricultural market makes them vulnerable not only to a surge in prices but, more crucially, to an interruption in supplies.

Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investments and international land deals in Africa” by the United Nations and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a London-based think-tank, is the first attempt to study the new trend.

“This is rightly a hot issue because land is so central to identity, livelihoods and food security,” it states.

The desire of investing countries to repatriate the crops to feed their own population in the name of self-sufficiency significantly changes the nature of such investment. In the 1950s and 1960s, ­international companies focused on making money by growing food for a global market.

Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency that fights rural poverty, says the world is witnessing an emerging trend. “The issue of food security is back on the political agenda and that is driving investment in agriculture,” he says.

Lorenzo Cotula, one of the report’s authors and senior researcher at the IIED, adds: “The trend of farmland investment is real and gaining ground.”

The trend to outsource the provision of food security and to pursue self-sufficiency at home is hotly contested by agricultural companies and trade officials.

Carl Hausmann, chief executive of Bunge North America, one of the world’s largest agricultural trading companies, echoed a view widely held among other executives and government officials at the recent World Agricultural Forum in St Louis, Missouri.

“Many governments are rethinking their approach to food security and are saying we need more domestic production, we need to be domestically independent,” he said. “I would argue the exact opposite approach is better. Without the free flow of trade in agricultural commodities and food products the health of any given country in any given year is at risk.”

Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organisation, warned that more trade rather than less was the solution to food security. “If anything, international trade has reduced the price of food over the years,” he told a recent conference at the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC) in Salzburg, Austria.

Such concerns are, however, unlikely to stop the trend. With agricultural commodities prices on the rise again and some of the export restrictions imposed a year ago still in place, most experts argue that the impact in Africa and elsewhere is likely to be long-lasting.

“Decisions taken today will have major repercussions for the livelihoods and food security of many, for decades to come,” warns the report.


The Financial Times Limited 2009

Homepage photo by stillingen


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匿名 | Anonymous


中国简报(China Briefing)也刚提及了一些中国在非洲事务中的参与问题,似乎这一话题开始热门起来了:http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2009/06/08/china%e2%80%99s-africa-strategy-blossoms-as-relationship-develops.html#more-3457


China in Africa

China Briefing also just ran a piece on China involvement in Africa, seems it's becoming a hot topic: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2009/06/08/china%e2%80%99s-africa-strategy-blossoms-as-relationship-develops.html#more-3457

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匿名 | Anonymous


关于海外屯田的说法,自从金融时报去年9月的报道以来(见中国要去海外“屯田” ,英国《金融时报》吉密欧(Jamil Anderlini)北京报道 2008-05-09 ),就是个敏感话题。但事实上这是个典型的借中国炒作的话题。中国离海外“屯田” 还差得很远,相反一些石油国家和日韩等土地稀少的国家早就已经开始着手了。如日本在海外的的农田面积是其国内面积的三倍,韩国在马达加斯加的租田种粮的协议直接导致了马国前政府下台。中国在非洲租种土地的大部分都是自发的商人和农民,在海外租地经营农场,但基本都是在当地市场销售。政府组织的以运粮回中国为目的海外屯田行为既没有价格优势,同时有很高的政治风险。何况以中国的人口规模和粮食需求,海外屯田的产出只能是杯水车薪。金融时报今年四月的一篇报道(中国:将依靠自有土地保障粮食安全,英国《金融时报》哈维尔•布拉斯(Javier Blas)意大利希森迪瓦马瑞报道 2009-04-21)中援引中国农业部副部长牛盾的话,也很明确的阐述了中国在这个问题上的立场。中国不可能依靠在其他国家投资来保障本国的粮食安全,中国政府倾向于依靠自有土地保证粮食自给自足,从而使中国与沙特和韩国等投资于海外土地的国家形成差异。 实际上,去年11月国家发改委副主任张晓强在发布我国首部国家粮食安全中长期规划纲要的发布会上就明确的说过,“绝对不会大规模地购买或长期租用其他国家的土地,以此来保障中国的粮食安全”。大概那时金融时报驻北京的记者没有觉得很重要吧?

China can't rely on global farmland

The topic of purchasing farmlands abroad has become sensitive since a report published in the Financial Times last September (see "China sets its sights on global farmland" by Jamil Anderlini in Beijing, Friday, 09 May, 2008). Actually this is a typical topic for questioning China. In terms of purchasing farmlands abroad, compared to oil countries like Japan and South Korea which lack land and have already set to work, China still has so much to do. For instance, the scale of Japan's overseas farmlands triples its own land; the agreement for renting farmland to plant crops in Madagascar by South Korea led directly to the collapse of former government of Madagascar. Mostly Chinese people who rent lands in Africa are spontaneous businessmen and farmers. They rent land abroad as farmland and sell most of the products on the local markets. The action of using overseas farmland with the aim of supplying domestic food triggered by government neither has price advantages or a low political risk. What is more, taking China's population scale and the demand for food into account, what overseas land use offers is not enough. In fact, in last November, Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy director of National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in the conference of China's first National Food Security Program for Medium and Long-Term development has clarified that, "we will certainly not to largely buy or rent other countries’ land for long term to ensure China's food security." Probably at that moment the reporter of Financial Time in Beijing did not take it seriously.

This comment is translated by Emily Li Yajing.

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匿名 | Anonymous




The changing face of export-oriented agriculture in Africa

Not long ago European expatriates in East Africa were roubstly criticised in Europe for (a) farming cash crops for export instead of helping feed poor local people and (b) occupying the most valuable agricultural land locally.

It seems now to be acceptable for foreign corporations or immigrants and expatriates from countries outside Europe to do so.

The development industry has switched from a focus on good governance and equity to pursuit of economic growth - especially by increasing trade - regardless of social and environmental impact.

The international community and (for obvious reasons) corrupt national politicians do not seem critical of the land grab. Impoverished, war-weary Africans locally are on their own.

(Moderated by Chinadialogue)

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匿名 | Anonymous



The need of facts to provide evidence

Which countries purchase large scale fertile land in Africa? Is China one of them? Many people seem to doubt China's attitude to Africa. The idle talk is not persuasive, the best method is facts providing evidence. I don't know if the report mentioned in the article tells of the countries purchasing farmland, if not, those interested to know can go to Africa conducting research studies to discover facts.
Translated by Jennifer Yip

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


联合国粮食及农业组织(粮农组织)和国际农业发展基金(农发基金)的报告实际上是对中国的作用要比一般的媒体报道显示得更为细致。 它注意到对于中国在非洲的农业投资的程度缺乏可靠的报告,只有很少任何投资超过5万公顷。有趣的是,它认为农业的投资促使更多的推动,扩大外国直接投资方面而不是粮食安全。2009年5月出版的非洲亚洲机密拥有我看到的最全面的非洲农业投资清单。不过,我最近花了时间与非洲发展的若干高级专家,他们给我介绍在非常低端的市场贫穷的非洲人对中国商业人的愤怒与竞争-从蔬菜市场到卖淫。也许非洲和其他政府可以更仔细提供给外国人计划设立店铺签证,并选择他们希望的特定技能和投资,就像中国曾经做得方法。AW
译Jennifer Yip

China's agricultural investments more nuanced

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) report is actually far more nuanced on China's role than most of the media coverage suggests.


It notes the paucity of reliable reports on the extent of Chinese investment in African agriculture, with few, if any investments for more than 50,000 hectares. Interestingly, it sees investment in agriculture as driven more by a push to expand FDI than for food security concerns.

The May 2009 edition of Africa-Asia Confidential has the most comprehensive list of Chinese investments in African agriculture that I've seen.

However, I recently spent time with several senior African development experts, who described to me the growing level of frustration among poor Africans at competition from Chinese traders at the very lowest end of the market -- from vegetables to prostitution.

Perhaps African and other governments could look very carefully at the kind of visas it is willing to offer to foreigners planning to set up shop there and be selective about the kind of skills and investment they want, just like China did. AW