The commandeering of natural resources, goods, and money from poor countries is an old story. But tools for dominion evolve, and now a new wave of land takeovers by international monopoly capital is taking place.

In an era of climate change, economic collapse, and a billion people hungry, that’s bad news. Governments or corporations, often government subsidized, have since 2006 acquired or leased almost 50 million acres. Another 50 to 75 million acres are under negotiation.  That total exceeds twice the acreage of the U.K.

The Indonesian government announced plans in March for a four million acre “integrated food and energy estate” in Papua to “turn Indonesia into one of the world’s biggest food producers,” according to IRIN News. Indonesian and foreign corporations will invest $6.6 billion to grow rice, maize, soy, and sugar cane.

Saudi billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi leased 2,500 acres of Ethiopian land for 99 years to grow vegetables under plastic for Middle Eastern consumers. That’s in addition to his planned $2 billion investment in 1.25 million acres so that “one of the hungriest countries in the world” (reporter John Vidal) can provide Saudi Arabia with wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers. Ethiopia has 7.5 million acres available for industrial farming.  

The Nigerian government would open up 87 million acres of land for lease to Gulf Arab countries. China will be producing palm oil on seven million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Indian companies control land in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal, and Mozambique.  South Korean corporations recently bought 1.75 million acres in northern Sudan for wheat cultivation;

The giant Brazilian sugar corporation COSAN funds foreign purchases of Brazilian farmland. Brazilian investors, with government support, buy land for food and biofuel production in Latin America and Africa.  The government finances infrastructure projects in Guyana in support of rice plantations on ecologically sensitive, indigenous lands.

In this “new chapter,” corporations and joint ventures are “investing enormous amounts of money in land, food production, the export and import of commodities, and food-market speculation.”  Money comes from “US and European pension funds, banks, private equity groups, and wealthy individuals.”  Click here.

One impetus comes from supposed food shortages attributed to oil price rises, lack of water, and diversion to biofuels.  Yet world food production increased 25 percent during the 1990’s. Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries are looking to food production abroad to save on water used for irrigation. Land accumulation is profitable with possibilities of 25 percent on investment. And heavily populated, well-to-do countries are hedging bets against climate change, population growth, and drought. New industrial uses require agricultural products, notably biofuels.

Land grab has consequences. Analysts cite loss of national sovereignty from waning jurisdiction over corporate controlled lands.  Dilution of state responsibilities to citizens at risk leads to fractured governance.  Without land and unable to produce food, small farmers become wage slaves or migrate to cities. Dealings between corporations and governments are marked by corruption. . Governments are prone to see obligations to corporations as requiring the criminalization of land defenders.

Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva in March warned of damage to land sustainability from chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds used in industrial agriculture. “We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale [and] less food is available and local people will have less,” she stated, emphasizing that “The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security.”

According to GRAIN, Corporations “want to dismantle our relationships and connections. They no longer need to invade: They can make commercial deals. They no longer have to carry the burden of maintaining slaves; they can rely on a ready supply of low-wage labor. They are no longer responsible for crushing the rebellious; the host governments will deal with those issues.”

Yet the South African government is proposing “limits to land ownership by its own citizens and foreigners.” Demonstrations in Cambodia in March forced cancellation of a 23,800 acre land concession awarded the Phnom Penh Sugar Company. In Colombia the two year old SALSA campaign, a nationwide alliance of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples, is protesting diversion of land to agro-fuel production. Last year, popular protests forced South Korean industrial giant Daewoo to drop plans to lease 4.7 million acres in Madagascar for corn and palm oil production, half the island’s arable land.



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.