The New Land Rush
Last year's food crisis that saw record food prices and food riots around the world has touched off a rush by wealthy but food reliant nations to purchase farming land in poorer countries in South and Central Asia, Latin America, and East Africa. Countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and India have been buying up fertile farm land in order to secure their own food supplies.
China's serious water problems and creeping deserts led it to lease lands in Laos, Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Brazil. With $1.8 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China has had ample funds to buy up land. Similar water problems in India led it to lease land in Burma which already supplies a quarter of its lentil imports. South Korea has secured farmland in Indonesia and Madagascar. South Korea is continuing to negotiate with Madagascar for a deal which would encompass half of Madagascar's arable land. Saudi Arabia has given up its efforts to feed itself and has plans to buy 400,000 hectares of land by early 2009 in Australia, Croatia, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam.
The new land rush has sparked controversy in some of the selling countries. Calling the new land deals "neo-colonialism," the UN's top food expert Jaques Diouf has remarked that "Some negotiations [between host countries and the investors] have led to unequal international relations and short-term mercantilist agriculture." In Brazil, the government has become concerned that foreign groups' ownership of land was a "threat to sovereignty."
The possibility of resource wars has concerned many people who foresee growing shortages in coming years, but this new food colonialism has shown that there may be many ways that countries scramble to compete for scarce resources.