Investing in Farming

Climate change, peak oil and soil depletion will inevitably drive up food prices globally in the future. Some nations are looking to secure their future by investing in farming in developing countries. This can create the possibility of addressing local food shortages and rural development. But when wealthy developed countries (like China, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan) start purchasing land in poor countries (like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Sudan), it is for growing their own crops. In return for securing food supplies for the cash-rich nations, cash-poor governments obtain profits through land leases or, in some cases, mere promises of jobs and development in the forms of schools, roads and cash for their nation.

Andrew Rice recently wrote in the New York Times Sunday magazine about the experiences of Dr. Robert Zeigler in Saudi Arabia with agro-imperialism. With most of the world’s arable land already in use, Africa is being looked to for farmland–even though the continent cannot feed its own people. The commoditization of land comes at a cost. Small-scale farmers tends to be more careful about land management, ecological biodiversity, water sources and soil depletion.

Business Week came out with an article on the Land Rush in Africa last week that provides stories of the consequences of allowing ‘big business’ to effectively replace small-scale farming practices with large-scale industrial agriculture. For example, Dominion Farms, an Oklahoma-based company, leases 17,000 acres in Kenya. Local farmers report that the company-built dam has flooded their farms,
contaminated local drinking water with pesticides, and
provided far fewer jobs at lower wages than promised.

There is a need to set guidelines and create agreements that protect both investors and farmers and that address the threat of hunger in all nations. Growing calls for regulations and policies fuel the efforts of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, which conducts a Global Food and Natural Resources research program to identify and evaluate global change options that help poor people.