Victims of the U.S. real estate slump may not feel it, but there’s a worldwide rush to buy land going on.
Nations from China to Saudi Arabia as well as corporations and private investors are buying up enormous tracts of land around the world at a rate 20 times faster than in previous years. They’re trying to hedge their bets against the next food crisis, or profit from growing crops that can be made into alternative fuels like ethanol. Elsewhere they are buying up water and subsurface rights.
A group of Cornell social scientists will be collaborating over the next three years to look at the financial, political and legal implications of this trend…
“Land deals are indicative of and also generating really important transformations in the four areas that we’ll concentrate on: property, governance, political economy and livelihood. We’re using land deals as a window onto broader transformations at this current moment,” said Wendy Wolford…co-leading the project with Charles Geisler, professor of development sociology.
…Geisler added. “We know that global climate change is altering sea levels and reducing the size of continental coastal zones — some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. At the same time, a feeding frenzy is under way as nations vie for new places to source their food. These contexts are critical to understanding shrinking ‘global hectare’ trends as well as the precarious state of everyday people dependent on lands in the global South.”
The international community began to take notice of large-scale land deals in 2009, when Madagascar’s government arranged a deal to lease one-third of its arable land to Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean company, for raising food crops. The lease prompted panic, protests and eventually a coup in Madagascar…
Sub-Saharan Africa is the main site of large-scale land acquisitions because the apparently “underutilized” arable land and the potential for improved yields are substantial. “Some say this wave of land acquisition is exactly what we need to feed the world’s growing population and meet the demand for alternative energy,” Wolford said. “Others say it’s just the colonial scramble for Africa repeated, it’s 1884-85 all over again. And, in truth, it’s a little bit of both.”
A project I will try to stay in touch with.
I’ve seen intimations of this process in economic notes around the world. Of course, the dunderheads in Congress haven’t a clue. I doubt if Africa approaches anything near the top of the pile of economic and human rights issues in the White House [not a big vote-getter]. And the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican in general opposes any study of either climate change or equity and ethics in business.