Daewoo in Madagascar – the new corporate colonialism?

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2009

farm land in MadagascarWith the headlines all taken up by news of crises closer to home, you might not have heard about the civil unrest and political turmoil currently underway in Madagascar.

Even if you have, you might not be aware of what is emerging as one of the trigger factors: Korean company Daewoo inking a deal with the Malagasy government to buy 1.3 million hectares of land, approximately half of the country’s arable real estate.

The company said it had leased 1.3m hectares of farmland – about half the size of Belgium – from Madagascar’s government for 99 years. It plans to ship the maize and palm oil harvests back to South Korea. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The pursuit of foreign farm investments is a clear sign of how countries are seeking food security following this year’s crisis – which saw record prices for commodities such as wheat and rice and food riots in countries from Egypt to Haiti.

It’s not news that food shortages are affecting many countries at the moment, but this move has a distinct whiff of colonialism, no matter how Daewoo’s project manager paints it as a unique expression of Korean psychology. Possibly more worrying still is the fact that few Korean companies seem willing to invest in the project, while a number of foreign interests apparently are. And then there’s this gorgeous slice of doublethink from a Korean journalist covering the story:

I feel more convinced than before that Korea needs Daewoo’s success in Madagascar, not only to prove that its model is different from the models of Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Japan during their colonial pasts, but also that it is setting a new precedent for both African states and outside investors to benefit from.

Because, y’know, the best way to prove you’re totally different from the old colonial empire-builders is to pretty much replicate their tactics under cover of supposedly legitimate and benevolent business.AMIIRITE?

As the effects of climate change increase the pressure on global agriculture, we’re going to see a whole lot more of this sort of thing; as the nation-state concept loses strength, it’s the weaker nations that will suffer first as their bigger rivals seek to consolidate their remaining power and resources. Borders are just lines on a map to hungry people… and hungry corporations.

All the links above (and a number of others to help you get up to speed on this story) can be found on MetaFilter. [image by World Resources Institute]

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