The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security

Article excerpt

The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security. Edited by Michael Kugelman and Susan L. Levenstein. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2013. Pp. x, 237. $50; paperback $25.

This edited volume of papers presented at a conference in 2009 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars reveals the latest twist in international business. Wealthy nations or corporations have refined their business strategy to include leasing or purchasing farmland from governments in some of the poorer nations. This is clearly nothing new (21); however, inequalities in power and the often unfavorable positioning of the least powerful land users between their own governments and international players raise a series of economic and ethical concerns.

What is new is that "food security" drives a country such as China or a corporation such as Daewoo to lease or buy land in a country such as Tanzania or Madagascar, then to work the land with their own imported labor and to ship all the produce back to the home country. This system not only cuts out the middleman but also alienates local communities from both land and labor.

It is estimated that in the period 2000-2012, over 200 million hectares- that is, an area "the size of Western Europe" (1) - have been leased or sold or are under negotiation. Investors want a return on their money; nations want food to feed or fuel their populations; and governments want to secure their tenure in power. Ethical issues involve the rights of indigenous populations (who may be at odds with their governments), the meaning of "unused" land, the control of water, and the fact that some poor countries leasing or selling farm land also receive food aid from the World Food Program (14). …