Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Foreign Direct Investment or Land Grabbing?

So... I guess my enthusiasm for intense, in-depth blog posts on the food system was a little short-lived. To be honest, I truly admire people who can dedicate that much time to in-depth research, tons of links and source information - it's harder than it looks! Every time I started up a new post I felt a little overwhelmed by my perfectionistic, need-to-be-accurate-and-detailed nature. Maybe it's more manageable to tune things down a little and still share interesting stuff that I stumble over in the course of my studies/exploration trips - which was the idea in the first place. In that vein... 

Our professor in Agricultural Markets actually pointed us to a really interesting resource on transnational land deals. So-called "land grabbing" has been in the media lately a lot since it started in the 2000s as consequence of an increase in the demand for biofuels (and thereby the demand for the biomass needed for transformation), a realization of countries with large populations (India, China) and little fertile land (many Gulf states) of their import dependency in food, and global market fluctuations that turned land into interesting investment opportunities. Since then, the practice of other countries and multinational corporations buying or leasing land, particularly in Africa and South-East Asia, has been under increasing debate as it is unclear whether the pros (mainly investment in agricultural infrastructure and efficiency) outweigh the cons (threats to the food security of the local population if they are evicted from the land, environmental consequences of a short-term profit mentality, etc.) One of the main hurdles to an informed discussion is that comparatively little information on the nature and consequences of these deals exist, as the agreements are often kept secret. Yet, the project Land Matrix (supported by Oxfam, and the governments of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission) attempts to track information about deals reported in the media or by governments. They also furnish beautiful and amazingly interesting infographics about the nature and direction of land deals. 


These let you see who are the main investing countries, target countries, who invests where and of what nature the deals are. 


The information is organized from less to more detailed analyses, culminating in an analytical report for those with a greater interest in the arguments for and against "land grabs" and in quantitative material. 


From a researcher's perspective, I can only applaud the efforts of this organization - independent of your opinion, actual data and accurate information is key to a useful discussion that goes beyond ideology - well done!