Africa Open for Business & the Great Agro Giveaway
From Z Magazine - The great agro giveaway is traced through it’s historical roots to the present and what to with future grabs: - transport systems, infrastructure, and credit systems!
Colonial-style empire-building is making a huge comeback, and most of the colonialists are latecomers, elbowing their way past the established European and U.S. predators.
Backed by their governments and bankrolled with huge trade and investment profits and budget surpluses, the newly emerging neo-colonial economic powers are seizing control of vast tracts of fertile lands from poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through the intermediation of local, corrupt, free-market regimes. Millions of acres of land have been granted–in most cases free of charge–to those who, at most, promise to invest in infrastructure to facilitate the transfer of their plundered agricultural products to their own home markets and to pay the going wage of less than $1 dollar a day to the destitute local peasants. Projects and agreements are in the works to expand imperial land takeovers to cover additional tens of millions of hectares of farmland in the very near future. The great land sell-off/transfer takes place at a time and in places where landless peasants are growing in number, and small farmers are being forcibly displaced by the neo-colonial state and bankrupted through debt and lack of affordable credit. At the same time, millions of organized landless peasants and rural workers struggling for cultivatable land are criminalized, repressed, assassinated, or jailed and their families are driven into disease-ridden urban slums. The historic context bears similarities and differences with the old-style empire building of past centuries.
Old and New Style Agro-Imperial Exploitation
During the previous five centuries of imperial domination, the exploitation and export of agricultural products and minerals played a central role in the enrichment of Euro-North American empires. Up to the 19th century, large-scale plantations and latifundios, organized around staple crops, relied on forced labor–slaves, indentured servants, semi-serfs, tenant farmers, migrant seasonal workers, and a host of other forms (including prisoners)–to accumulate wealth and profits for colonial settlers, home country investors, and imperial state treasuries.
The agricultural empires were secured through conquest of indigenous peoples, importation of slaves and indentured workers, and the forcible seizure and dispossession of communal lands. In many cases, the colonial rulers incorporated local elites as administrators and recruited the impoverished, dispossessed natives to serve as colonial soldiers led by white Euro-American officers.
Colonial-style agro-imperialism came under attack by mass-based national liberation movements throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, culminating in the establishment of independent national regimes throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From the very beginning of their reign, the newly independent states pursued diverse policies toward colonial-era land ownership and exploitation. A few of the radical, socialist, and nationalist regimes eventually expropriated, either partially or entirely, foreign landowners, as was the case in China, Cuba, Indochina, Zimbabwe, Guyana, Angola, India, and others. Many of these expropriations led to land transfers into the hands of a newly emerging post-colonial bourgeoisie, leaving the mass of the rural labor force without land or confined to communal land. In most cases, the transition from colonial to post-colonial regimes was underwritten by a political pact ensuring the continuation of colonial patterns of land ownership, cultivation, marketing, and labor relations (described as a neo-colonial agro-export system). With few exceptions most of these governments failed to change their dependence on export crops, diversify export markets, develop food self-sufficiency, or finance the settlement of rural poor onto fertile uncultivated public lands.
Where land distribution did take place, the regimes failed to invest sufficiently in the new forms of rural organization (family farms, co-ops, or communal ejidos) or imposed centrally controlled large-scale state enterprises which were inefficiently run, failed to provide adequate incentives for the direct producers, and were exploited to finance urban-industrial development. As a result, many state farms and cooperatives were eventually dismantled. In most countries, great masses of the rural poor continued to be landless and subject to the demands of local tax collectors, military recruiters, and usurious money lenders and were often evicted.
Neo-liberalism and the Rise of Agro-Imperialism
Emblematic of the new style agro-imperialism is the South Korean takeover of half (1.3 million hectares) of Madagascar’s total arable land under a 70-90 year lease in which the Daewoo Logistics Corporation of South Korea expects to pay nothing for a contract to cultivate maize and palm oil for export. In Cambodia, several emerging agro-imperial Asian and Middle Eastern countries are “negotiating” (with hefty bribes and offers of lucrative local “partnerships” to local politicians) the takeover of millions of hectares of fertile land. The scope and depth of the newly emerging agro-imperial expansion into the impoverished countryside in Asia, Africa, and Latin America far surpasses that of the earlier colonial empire before the 20th century. (A detailed account of the new agro-imperialist countries and their neo-colonial colonies has recently been compiled on the website of GRAIN.)
The driving forces behind contemporary agro-imperialist conquest and land grabbing can be divided into three blocs:
- The rich Arab oil regimes, mostly among the Gulf States (in part, through their sovereign wealth funds)
- The emerging imperial countries of Asia (China, India, South Korea, and Japan) and Israel
- The earlier imperial countries (U.S. and Europe), the World Bank, Wall Street investment banks, and other assorted imperial speculator-financial companies
Oakland Institute - excellent site for in depth report on land investment and acquisitions in Africa and other parts of the global south.