Short of Food? Rent Half a Country – Ethiopia Put up for Sale by Zenawi – By Graham Bowley

November 19th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Zenawi has said it, too, is “very eager” to lease hundreds of thousands of acres of its farmland to rich Middle Eastern countries, according to the FT report. (more…)

Zenawi has said it, too, is “very eager” to lease hundreds of thousands of acres of its farmland to rich Middle Eastern countries, according to the FT report.

Today, further signs of how the world may be reshaped as population pressures grow and global warming intensifies.

A South Korean company has leased 3.2 million acres of farmland from the government of Madagascar for 99 years. That’s an area about half the size of Belgium — and it represents nearly half of all the arable land in the country, according to a report in the Financial Times. The company, Daewoo Logistics, plans to grow maize and oil palms, with the produce to be shipped back to South Korea, according to the report.

This news comes just a week after the the president-elect of the Maldives, a nation of 1,200 low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean, said he was planning to use some of the country’s tourism revenue to buy an alternative homeland for its 37,000 citizens, in case rising sea levels inundate the country. (Not so far-fetched: the highest point in the Maldives is just 7.5 feet above sea level now.) The practical president-elect, Mohamed Nasheed, mentioned Sri Lanka and India as possible spots for a refuge, should the deluge ever arrive.

Both developments hint at the possible large-scale global upheaval that could ensue as temperatures rise, sea levels rise with them and burgeoning populations put new pressure on existing world food supplies.

Earlier this year, The New York Times chronicled the chaos caused by skyrocketing commodity prices around the world, with droughts in big agricultural nations like Australia and violent protests over crimped supplies of foodstuffs like rice in countries from Cameroon to Egypt, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen. As worries over food security intensified, India, Vietnam, China and others limited or banned rice exports in order to keep the valuable staple within their own borders.

Since then, the looming global economic recession has brought commodity prices back down somewhat — especially crude oil — but there are still long-term worries about food and commodity security in an uncertain world.

The Daewoo solution would seem to be a clever approach to the problem, potentially meeting the needs of both South Korea, which is chronically short of farmland, and Madagascar, which is chronically short of money. And it may become a model: Ethiopia’s government has said it, too, is “very eager” to lease hundreds of thousands of acres of its farmland to rich Middle Eastern countries, according to the FT report.

But the report also says that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that such arrangements risk creating a “neo-colonial system.” What would happen, for example, if the Madagascan subsistence farmers’ own crops were to fail while shiploads of maize were still being sent to South Korea?

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