Sunday, October 17, 2010


Food self-sufficiency is a dream every independent country entertains to ensure that its citizens are fed properly and adequately as food can be a "fatal" tool for unrest when there is a shortage. The 2008 food riots in Asia and more recent ones in Africa have only confirmed this fact of history. But many countries face critical impediments in achieving self sufficiency due shortage of inputs like land, water right weather conditions and skilled farmers, the four vital ingredients which can only ensure adequate production of right type of foods. It is under these conditions that import is resorted to for meeting the shortages. In India itself there has been persistent shortage of pulses and oil seeds since ages which government is not able to address effectively and these two commodities form a major part of food imports into the country.

Buying or leasing surplus lands, not cultivated from land surplus and food surplus countries is a logical way for augmenting food production, what is objectionable is the efforts by rich countries to corner farmlands in poor countries where poverty, food shortage and malnutrition are widely prevalent. Added to this, the production from these lands are not made available to local population to meet at least part of their food needs. A mutually agreed sharing of production probably can be justified to some extent but those who invest to make these lands highly productive by marshaling optimum resources invariably are looking for maximized returns without any obligation to the local people. Here is a commentary on the subject.

"At that point, as world market prices for grain and soybeans were tripling, governments in food-importing countries suddenly realized that they could no longer rely on the market for supplies. In response, some countries tried to nail down long-term bilateral trade agreements that would lock up future grain supplies. The Philippines, a leading rice importer, negotiated a three-year deal with Viet Nam for a guaranteed 1.5 million tons of rice each year. A delegation from Yemen, which now imports most of its wheat, traveled to Australia with the hope of negotiating a long-term wheat import deal. Egypt has reached a long-term agreement with Russia for more than 3 million tons of wheat each year. Other importers sought similar arrangements. But in a seller?s market, few were successful".

"The inability to negotiate long-term trade agreements was accompanied by an entirely new genre of responses among the more affluent food-importing countries as they sought to buy or lease large blocks of land to farm in other countries. As food supplies tighten, we are witnessing an unprecedented scramble for land that crosses national boundaries. Libya, importing 90 percent of its grain and worried about access to supplies, was one of the first to look abroad for land. After more than a year of negotiations it reached an agreement to farm 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of land in the Ukraine to grow wheat for its own people".

"What is so surprising is the sheer number of land acquisition agreements that have been negotiated or are under consideration. In 2009 the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) compiled a list of nearly 50 agreements, based largely on a worldwide review of press reports. No one knows for sure how many such agreements there are or how many there will eventually be. This massive acquisition of land to grow food in other countries is one of the largest geopolitical experiments ever conducted".

"The role of government in land acquisition varies. In some cases, government-owned corporations are acquiring the land. In others, private entities are the buyers, with the government of the investing country using its diplomatic resources to achieve an agreement favorable to the investors. The land-buying countries are mostly those whose populations have outrun their own land and water resources. Among them are Saudi Arabia, South Korea , China, Kuwait, Libya, India, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is looking to buy or lease land in at least 11 countries, including Ethiopia, Turkey, Ukraine, Sudan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and Brazil".

While the food commodities so produced are supposed to be consumption by humans, in a few cases the over riding commercial interests divert the materials for bio-fuel production which cannot be justified. It is good that the collective conscience of the world is aroused by these cross border farm activities and more balanced legal frame work is likely to emerge for the mutual benefit of all.


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