Saturday, October 11, 2008


How about handing over your land to some body for cultivation for a consideration though you are starving because of shortage of food and your inability to buy the minimum food required to keep body and soul together? If the leasing is for a limited period, lease amounts are attractive and you are trained on modern farming technology, probably the deal may be worth while in the long run. The days of land tenancy and share cropping have gone long ago as far as India is concerned, at least on paper. Contract growing is becoming the norm now with large players providing some critical inputs to the growers in return for an assured price pre-negotiated. APMC Acts at the state levels are amended to allow private market yards to come up hoping that growers will get better returns under such a system besides assuring the food processors to ensure regular supply of raw materials for their manufacturing operations.

The African governments are learning that leasing land to foreign companies can be beneficial in many ways though in the short term they face starvation situation with no financial or technological means to raise agricultural productivity. Ethically it may be wrong for any country to allow foreign companies to use their land to raise economic crops for export to the global markets while a segment of the population is starving for want of foods and many of them surviving on donated foods from out side. Africa is invariably described as the epicenter of malnutrition and under nutrition and the exhausted land devoid of nutrients due to years of cultivation without replenishment is just not able to produce enough to feed the growing population.

As is said aptly, hunger is a life and death question for starving population but a golden opportunity to make money for those having the wherewithal to invest. History is replete with instances when rich nations from other continents stripped Africa of its gold and diamonds for generations, then its oil and rubber and even people were imported from Africa as slaves to do menial work under bondage. Now comes the new development where the vast land, some highly fertile, in Africa is being walloped by some of the richest countries on earth for raising food crops using the cheap labor so easily available there to meet the food needs of the people of those countries. Sudan and Saudi Arabia are striking a deal worth $ 95 million to lease out 25000 acres near Nile River, north of the capital Khartoum. UAE is going for 70000 acres of land in Sudan, south of Khartoum. Sudan seems to be the leader in this new game as it has already leased out more than 2 million acres to foreign investors since June 2008. Qatar investors are using Sudan for fattening sheep for export back to their country. Egypt and Ethiopia are offering agricultural land to prospective foreign investors to earn foreign exchange. Kuwait is reported to be eying South Asia as possible destination for investment in agriculture. Pakistan is supposed to be in line to get $500 million for similar deals. Libya, not to be left behind, is planning to get land in Ukraine

To their defense it can be said that the money earned by leasing land, if properly utilized to feed those facing starvation, strengthening technological base and building infrastructure, can go ma long way to bring these countries out of poverty and destitution. The deals will have to be fashioned in such a way that at the end of the lease period there should be self sufficiency as far as agricultural technology is concerned. Other wise it can end up as a mockery of the fundamental rights of the unfortunate people who inhabit this hapless continent.and whose land is mortgaged for the benefit of a few at the helm of affairs. Can an international agency like FAO or WTO step in to help these countries to negotiate with prospective investors on an equitable basis? Other wise such developments will only lead to restoration of colonialism of yesteryears in some form with all its accompanying consequences.

No comments: