Why is Saudi Arabia buying up African farmland?

The Christian Science Monitor highlights an April report by the International Food Policy Research Institute entitled "'Land Grabbing' by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries." The report details purchases of farmland in developing countries by China, South Korea, India, and a handful of gulf states.

Saudi Arabia recently purchased 500,000 hectares of land in Tanzania and Indian companies have bought land in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique.

Another analysis of the "land-grabbing" trend relased in June by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and two other agricultural research groups examines more closely the potential positives and negatives of the purchases.

Increased investment may bring macro-level benefits (such as GDP growth and improved government revenues), and may create opportunities for economic development and livelihood improvement in rural areas.

But as governments or markets make land available to prospecting investors, large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security – particularly as some key recipient countries are themselves faced with food security challenges. 

And, as Devindeer Sharma from India's Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security told the Telegraph on June 28, there is a high chance of a local backlash and investors will have to avoid a neo-colonial image:

"There are 80 Indian companies trying to get land in Ethiopia, and it's all to be imported back to India. The government of India has been encouraging them," he said, and warned of danger if famine returned to Africa.

"If food is being shipped out and poor people are dying, what will happen? There would be riots," he said.

Thoughts? Is the investment good or bad for the recipient countries? 



Tony Blair: President of Europe?

Britain's Europe Minister Glenys Kinnock has confirmed that former Prime Minister Tony Blair will receive the full support of the British government in his candidature for European Union president. If appointed, Blair would become the first sitting president of the EU for a term of any time between 30 months and five years. Despite Britain's failure to join the euro, Blair appears to be a strong candidate for the position, with what Lady Kinnock calls the necessary "strength of character" and "status".

Also on board the President-Blair train is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who described him as the "ideal personality" to be EU president. And, though he may now be looking elsewhere, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had at one time been a key proponent of both the creation of the presidency and Blair's bid in particular, saying:

He is intelligent, he is brave and he is a friend. We need him in Europe. How can we govern a continent of 450 million people if the president changes every six months and has to run his own country at the same time?

In past, British ministers have said that announcing a potential candidate is premature to the creation of the position itself. Unsurprisingly, it still is. The post of EU president is dependent on an October 2 referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty. 26 out of 27 EU member states have already approved ratification of the treaty, but Irish voters rejected it 53.4 to 46.6 percent in June 2008.

Blair is careful not to get ahead of himself. A spokesman for the current Middle East envoy later responded:

As we have said, time and again on this, there is nothing to be a candidate for since the job doesn't actually exist.

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