Academic journal article The Middle East Journal


Academic journal article The Middle East Journal


Article excerpt

The Journal welcomes comments from its readers. All communications should be addressed to the Editor and bear the full name and address of the writer. A selection of those received will be published periodically in these columns. When a comment is received regarding an article or review published in the Journal, and we feel it merits serious consideration, the author will be given the option to respond in kind. As a matter of policy, such exchanges are normally limited to one round. The Journal reserves the right to edit or abridge all contributions. In addition to letters of comment, communications on other information of interest will be printed as space is available.

To the Editor:

Thank you for choosing to review my book Oil for Food in The Middle East Journal Volume 68, Number 1 (Winter 2014), pp. 179-80. Jane Harrigan deems the historic parts "fascinating" and I find her review overall positive. However, at the end she argues that my presentation of current Gulf agro-investments would be "unjustifiably rosy" and "somewhat biased."

She objects in particular to my sub-chapter "A Land Grab that Wasn't" in which I use fieldwork in the Gulf countries and Sudan to point out that there is a huge disconnect between media reports about landgrabs and actual implementation on the ground. Investors have been reluctant because of infrastructure shortcomings, instability, political resistance, and lack of commercial viability. If Gulf investors have put money on the table, it has been rather in developed agro-markets like Australia or Argentina. For Chinese investments, Deborah Brautigam, Rural Modernity, and others have shown similar discrepancies with media reports.

Yet such misconceptions have sometimes been amplified by well-meaning reports of advocacy groups, among them the first version of the Land Matrix (LM) by the International Land Coalition (ILC) that has used media reports as a data source. Harrigan treats such media reports and databases as established truth and implies that I would have ignored "ample evidence" by ILC and others.

This is a bit daring as she a) does not mention my detailed and balanced criticism of the ILC's first version of the LM, and b) does not seem to be aware that in the meantime it has been substantially revised.

Its estimate of reported interest in large-scale land acquisitions has been reduced from 83 million hectares to 58 million. It got rid of some paper projects and allows for greater differentiation by introducing information about implementation status. This reveals that many signed projects have not started. There have also been revisions to the upside; all the projects in north Sudan where some implementation has actually taken place were not part of the first LM version, as I have pointed out in Oil for Food and they have now been included.

As far as "ample evidence" has been in fact unverified press reports, it has led to the presentation of outlandish figures. An article by Rulli et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was based on the first LM version and claimed that foreigners would have grabbed half of the cultivated land in the Philippines and 23% of it in Sudan. Such figures are far away from reality and are now critically discussed.

The Journal of Peasant Studies dedicated a special issue to methodological issues of landgrab research in 2013, which called for introspection to avoid quantitative fixations and a rush for higher numbers. There was consensus about the need for more qualitative case studies.

Harrigan seems to be uneasy about the "ample evidence" herself. At the end of her review she suggests that the implementation gap may well exist, but claims that negative effects would still occur in the form of preemptive displacements to empty land for investors. …

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