The Global Farms Race
6 x 9
6 x 9
As we struggle to feed a global population speeding toward 9 billion, we have entered a new phase of the food crisis. Wealthy countries that import much of their food, along with private investors, are racing to buy or lease huge swaths of farmland abroad. The Global Farms Race is the first book to examine this burgeoning trend in all its complexity, considering the implications for investors, host countries, and the world as a whole.
The debate over large-scale land acquisition is typically polarized, with critics lambasting it as a form of “neocolonialism,” and proponents lauding it as an elixir for the poor yields, inefficient technology, and unemployment plaguing global agriculture. The Global Farms Race instead offers diverse perspectives, featuring contributions from agricultural investment consultants, farmers’ organizations, international NGOs, and academics. The book addresses historical context, environmental impacts, and social effects, and covers all the major geographic areas of investment.
Nearly 230 million hectares of farmland—an area equivalent to the size of Western Europe—have been sold or leased since 2001, with most of these transactions occurring since 2008. As the deals continue to increase, it is imperative for anyone concerned with food security to understand them and their consequences. The Global Farms Race is a critical resource to develop that understanding.
"The Global Farms Race is a collection of essays by leading food security specialists, civil servants, and political scientists that provides analysis of the looming food crisis and illuminates possible ways forward."
Christian Science Monitor
"Secure access to land is key to the food security of millions of small family farms and their efforts to increase their productivity. In recent years, that access has been threatened by large-scale acquisitions of developing country farmland often by foreign investors that have rightly raised international concern. However, hard information is still limited. The Global Farms Race provides an international survey of this phenomenon and a valuable exploration of the controversies surrounding it."
Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
"The Global Farms Race is an exceptional book, easily the best on land grabs of any that I have seen."
Lester Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute
"The Global Farms Race marks an important turning point in the current discussions of global agricultural land investments and acquisitions. The volume presents a range of balanced perspectives on the issue, and the authors take a thoughtful approach to the historical context in which these deals are taking place, the measurable social and environmental impacts of land acquisitions, and the roles of investors and governments in improving the future outcomes of global agricultural land investments."
Rosamond Naylor, Professor and William Wrigley Senior Fellow, Freeman-Spogli Institute
"A timely, carefully researched survey of one of the most important new developments in the global food economy. Essential reading for anyone interested in the increasingly complex future of food security."
Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food
"Editors Kugelman and Levenstein have compiled a collection that describes how governments and private firms in more developed countries are acquiring farmland in less developed countries, especially in Africa, to garner natural resources and provide a secure food source for their populations. The book contains 12 chapters, each written by a different author and offering a unique viewpoint and perspectives on the issue."
"set(s) out a helpful agenda and adopts an open-minded and empirically oriented approach."
Springer Science + Business Media
"...set[s] out a helpful agenda and adopts an open-minded and empirically oriented approach."
Chapter 1. Introduction \ Michael Kugelman
Chapter 2. Are We Learning from History? \ Derek Byerlee
Chapter 3. Overview \ David Hallam
Chapter 4. Social and Economic Implications \ Alexandra Spieldoch and Sophia Murphy
Chapter 5. Environmental Impacts \ Laura A. German, Wouter M.J. Achten, and Manuel R. Guariguata
Chapter 6. Investors' Perspectives \ Gary R. Blumenthal
Chapter 7. Improving Outcomes \ Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Helen Markelova
Chapter 8. Regional Perspectives: Africa \ Chido Makunike
Chapter 9. Regional Perspectives: Asia \ Raul Q. Montemayor
Chapter 10. Regional Perspectives: Latin America \ Bastiaan P. Reydon and Vitor B. Fernandes
Chapter 11. Regional Perspectives: Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union \Carl Atkin
Chapter 12. Recommendations and Conclusion \ Michael Kugelman
About the Editors and Contributors
Whenever we hear about stories like these, stories of such immense exploitation and predation, there is a tendency to think: How can this happen? How can obscenely rich investors run roughshod over the land, livelihoods, and rights of impoverished local communities, and with utterly no consequences?
It's a question I used to ask myself quite often as I began researching my book, The Global Farms Race, a study of how wealthy nations and investors acquire mammoth-sized expanses of precious agricultural land in some of the world's most food insecure countries.
The answer is sobering: It happens because it can.
The power asymmetries at play help explain why. The investors are rich, powerful, and accountable to no one (except, in the case of private financiers, to their stockholders). They are aided and abetted in their investments by often-corrupt host governments that pay little mind to the needs of their constituencies. And then there are the affected communities, which are invariably poor and lacking in support networks—in other words, deeply vulnerable to the predations of powerful outsiders.
It is these power asymmetries that explain how a group of Chinese investors can waltz into Ecuador, stake out territory in dangerously close proximity to endangered tribes, and lay claim to an amount of pristine jungle the size of Los Angeles. These power asymmetries also explain how Indian corporate interests can grow food for export on farmland in conflict-riven Ethiopia previously cultivated for teff, a critical food crop. Or how agricultural investors from the United States, Europe, and East Asia have displaced hundreds, if not thousands, of local communities across Africa and Southeast Asia for their large agribusiness projects. I've discovered dozens of these cases, and they are all heartbreaking.
This isn't to say that some deals aren't stopped. Back in 2009, an unsuccessful attempt by the Daewoo corporation to acquire 1.3 million hectares of farmland in Madagascar set off widespread national protests that ultimately led to the deal being scuppered. Typically, though, these deals—despite the immense amount of land involved—remain secret, and the word often doesn't get out.
What my research revealed is that these deals tend to be cancelled, or at least modified in a way that reduces their harmful effects, only when host governments step up to say that enough is enough. The problem is that, like Ecuador, these governments tend to have a strong interest in seeing these deals through—because these schemes bring much-needed economic assistance—even though this assistance rarely percolates down to the masses.
Still, there have been some success stories over time. Argentina and Brazil have passed laws to limit foreign land ownership. Cambodia and Laos have even declared freezes on new land concessions.
What this all means is that international media coverage and shaming campaigns, as well as international civil society efforts to produce "codes of conduct" for international investors, are helpful—but ultimately limited in what they can accomplish. For actionable and meaningful results, we need to look to those that sign off on these deals to start with—the host governments.
Michael Kugelman is the South and Southeast Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. His work largely focuses on water, energy, food, land, and national security issues, particularly in, but not limited to, South Asia. His recent publications included the co-edited volumes Empty Bellies, Broken Dreams: Food Insecurity and the Future of Pakistan (Vanguard Press, 2011) and Land Grab: The Race for the World’s Farmland (Wilson Center, 2009).