China In Your Land

What's the likes of Sudan, Pakistan, Madagascar, the Philippines, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe got in common? Poverty, hunger, corruption?

That's probably correct, but not the answer I was looking for. The answer is that despite not being able to feed themselves, they are all fully prepared to sell of vast areas of their homeland to eager foreign buyers.

Rich investors in countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are buying - or negotiating to buy - land from at best desperate, and at worst corrupt, governments in all these countries.

The FAO says that about one billion people are currently living in hunger or are undernourished, including 100 million added to the total after the recent global financial crisis.

The largest number, about 642 million, is in Asia Pacific, followed by 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, only about 15 million people live in hunger or remain undernourished in the industrial world.

Yet Saudi Arabia says it is in negotiations with Pakistan to lease an area of farmland twice the size of Hong Kong to grow wheat, fruit and vegetables.

More than half a million acres of farmland in the DR Congo are about to be signed over to South Africa in phase one of a deal which could see much more of DR Congo's underused 25 million acres 'given' rent-free to South African farmers.

The Bahraini agriculture ministry has reportedly secured an agreement from its Filipino counterpart for Bahraini investment in the Philippines' agricultural sector. Given Bahrain's need for food supplies and the Philippines' need for foreign investment, such agreements are being presented as win-win deals.

In Zimbabwe, as you might imagine, things are even worse. China were able to swap F-1 jetfighters, armoured vehicles and an assortment of weapons for precious metals, diamonds and most importantly farmland, in the uproar surrounding Mugabe's refusal to acknowledge election defeat by arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

Workers complain that their new Chinese employers either do not pay them at all, or only pay them a pittance. Management positions are exclusively reserved for fellow Chinese.

China also recently announced that it is providing $7.9 billion in ‘loans’ to the Camara military junta that recently took power in Guinea through a coup d’etat.

But who really is winning in these win-win deals? Certainly not the farmers who are having their land seized. Here today and gone tomorrow governments are selling their souls to the Devil, swapping a bit of short-term gain in exchange for long-term pain.

The main thrust of investment isn't coming from those interested in long-term food security either. It's multi-national conglomerates looking to make money on the international commodity markets.

And where is all the water going to come from to irrigate these crops in this deeply immoral practice? Redirected away from the local watercourses no doubt, we might as well just go the whole hog and bring back slavery.