Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security’ by Michael Kugelman and Susan L. Levenstein, has offered us: deep, multi-positional insight presented by a host of authors with valid sources on one of the most interesting phenomenons happening within our current economic system.
From the surface it seems to be talking about how developed food- secure nations are buying up swaths of farmlands from the worlds most food- insecure countries, but after a deeper look into the book, this phenomenon and it’s complexities is much greater than that. There are twelves chapters in this book, each chapter written by a different author or authors, getting into different aspects and perspectives of this so called “Land Grabbing” issue.
The first chapter (introduction) is written by Michael Kugelman, followed by some history by Derek Byerlee, an overview by David Hallam, social and economic mplications by Alexandra Spieldoch and Sophia Murphy, environmental impacts by Laura A. German, Wouter M. J. Achten, and Manuel R. Guariguata, investors’ perspectives by Gary R. Blumenthal, improving outcomes by Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Helen Markelova, regional perspectives on Africa, Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union by Chido Makunike, Raul Q. Montemayor, Bastiaan P. Reydon and Vitor B.
Fernandes, Carl Atkin respectively, and finishes off with “Recommendations and Conclusion” by Michael Kugelman. The term “Land Grab” used on the book cover and in its pages depicts a large owerful foreign entity that acquire large amounts of land that is usually used by local poor communities to produce food and/or provide other essential basic human needs. These communities are often displaced soon after because they are banned from the site in which they have cultivated and lived off of. This term (Land Grab) is used quite fittingly as Michael Kugelman and Susan L.
Levenstein’s position on this matter is quite critical and essentially focused on the inequalities and other adverse effects of this phenomenon. That being said, the book still does mention a few xamples where there was a net positive outcome from these large land leasing transactions. The book also accepts what’s happening and takes on a very realistic way of approaching this issue. First, we must acknowledge the underlying causes. The first major event that nave made significant impact on this global farmland market was the food crises in 2007 and 2008.
The global prices of food has spiked, riots have increased, and export bans have been created to keep the availability and the prices of food low within exporting nations. This created a huge problem for importing nations as their food security as being undermined. The richer importing nations quickly started looking abroad to lease land for food security. These large scale land transactions, however, is not a new phenomenon, non-food commodities such as tea and rubber has been produced on leased land for a long time, but the amount of land being acquired by these large entities have never increased so dramatically in the past.
Estimates of 203 million hectares to 230 million hectares of land have been approved or is under negotiation from 2000-2010. That is roughly the size of Western Europe. With increases of urbanization (taking ver farmland), population, food consumption, bio-fuel consumption, droughts, and the temperature rising causing decreases in yields, it does not seem like this land grabbing trend will stop any time soon. Of course when talking about root causes, we can’t omit the incentives for the host countries: better technology, more local employment, better farm yields, better infrastructure, and most of all, money in the host’s pockets.
As a matter of fact, because of this money making opportunity, a lot of these nations are leasing with very lax regulations, tax incentives, tax holidays and other perks and benefits such as Pakistan’s 100,000 men security force to protect the leased land. So the premise is set, and since we’re currently embedded in this economic system, there’s no running away from it, at least not for a long time coming. So what is the problem? That we have to take a closer look at these case studies. The case studies presented in the book are focused on the key regions of investments from a descending order: Africa, South E.
Asia, Latin America, Central/ Eastern Europe, and former Soviet Union. The key investors would include but is not limited to: capital rich food importing nations such as the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, China, Japan, South Korea, and India, it also includes agricultural business firms from the West. The book also mentions that it isn’t always the capital rich countries that are investing in these large swaths of lands, North Africa for example is investing in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asian nations are investing in each other’s soils.
Similar trends in these case studies show up repeatedly: benefits to local communities are for the most part not materializing, many local communities have been displaced (Ex. A British project in Uganda displaced roughly 20,000 people), arge quantities of fresh water is being consumed, and deforestation is rapidly occurring (Ex. Sub-Saharan Africa’s palm oil production have caused 100% deforestation rates). These trends should not be surprising as most of the host governments and investors are in the market purely for self interest and show little regard to the impacts ot poor local communities and the environment.
These adverse effects creates a problem of conflict between the people and the large entities in these land transactions. We can see these conflicts in Madagascar (South Korea’s deal to buy 1. 3 million hectors of farmland sparked widespread rotests in 2009 to bring down the government), Uganda (Indian corporate investment in Uganda farmland has sparked violent responses), and Kenya (Kenyans have vowed to fight back violently after being evicted to accommodate a sugar plantation).
It is no wonder now that Pakistan has offered 100,000 men security force to protect the leased land. And with this 100,000 men security force, we can also see extent of disregard for these poor local local communities. The book ends with a more optimistic perspective on this matter. It is very realistic as it provides ways to make these transactions better, and morally Just for veryone. It talked a little about the increase in transparency on this subject. It itself has brought light to the public and continues to do so.
But not only do the authors want to inform academics, policy makers, business people, and the general public, I believe that the authors of the book also hopes to encourage better provisions for hiring locals, selling the food back to local communities (a few case studies in Asia has shown that this trend has occurred and the benefits to local communities have actually materialized [this gives us a little more hope for the future ahead of us]), and protecting the environment.
Hopefully the book will also have provided enough information to influence host countries to create more robust laws and regulations and offer to support small holders (host countries are a lot more restrictive on small holders than big investors) so these local communities are not completely exploited (studies suggest that small holders are a lot more efficient, environmental friendly, and morally Just compared to big holders). The book also gives sheds a bit of light on alternatives such as drought resistant farming technology/methods (less reliant to farm abroad) and Asia’s plan to form of rice pools so less entities gets compromised.