Colonialism redux

Via Tobias Buckell, The Guardian reports on Ethiopia, one of the world’s most food-short nations, and how it’s selling huge tracts of arable land to business interests from other countries:

The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the UK – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies.

Again, the line between nation and corporation is becoming very fuzzy indeed. The map is not the territory, so on and so forth. Maybe a Greek island or two might make a good commercial farm plot?

Let’s just hope that this move by Ethiopa doesn’t have the same knock-on effects as the Daewoo land-grab in Madagascar

5 thoughts on “Colonialism redux”

  1. I would be very leery about investing in this sort of thing, were I a business or serious investor. The example I’d most point to is what has been happening in Zimbabwe in the last twenty years. The government has siezed and redistributed land that was being used by successful, surplus-producing farmers, using modern agriculture techniques. The land was given in small plots to soldiers and others, who at best have practiced subsistence farming, and in most cases, have abandoned the land. And so Zimbabwe has gone from being a breadbasket of the continent, to a failed state that can’t even feed its own citizens – who are fleeing to other nations.

  2. Ermm, except for the situation in this article is the exact opposite of the one you described. The government is selling land either lying fallow or (more likely) being used for small-scale subsistance farming, and living it to large foreign agricultural concerns. The idea, presumably, being to turn Ethiopia from a relatively poor and backwards state, subject to famine and drought, into a breadbasket of the continent.

    Now, that doesn’t I wouldn’t be suspicious of this sort of thing for other reasons…

  3. **and living it to large foreign agricultural concerns**

    Blah, that should read

    **and giving it to large foreign agricultural concerns**

  4. I’m concerned about water resources (as well as the displacement of local communities, of course). This could spell ecological disaster in some regions, Ethiopia being a case in point.

  5. @Jordan: What I was getting at is that the government of Zimbabwe seized profitable, well-producing farmland that had been developed by farming businesses, and turned a breadbasket that had been decades in the making, into a series of deserted lands and villages. As a business investor, I’d be worried that a change in government would cause this to happen, again, and all that investment would be wasted. Denni also makes a good point – water supplies aren’t exactly stable in large swathes of Africa, both in quantity and quality.

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