Tag Archives: World Bank

Global Land Grabs: The New Colonialism?

Agricutural Land in Sudan

Agricutural Land in Sudan

A World Bank official last week leaked a draft report by the organization dealing with the “farmland grab.” The report, entitled “The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?” is intended to be the most comprehensive analysis of the farmland grab, in which countries invest in land overseas to expand food security domestically.

To date, a small number of high-profile purchases have received some attention, but the broader trend has been largely ignored. Using large sovereign wealth funds, obtained mostly from oil exports, countries like Saudi Arabia have been purchasing large tracts of land in Sudan, Ukraine, Pakistan, and Thailand, to establish large-scale agricultural production intended for export back to the home country. The United Arab Emirates is exploring similar deals with Sudan and Kazakhstan, Libya is looking to Ukraine, South Korea is purchasing land in Mongolia, and even China, which has considerable land resources but faces severe water shortages, is looking for investments in Southeast Asia.

According to the World Bank’s President, Robert Zoellick, such investments are a “win-win venture.” His spokesperson argues, “This is a situation that could bring real benefits to people in some developing countries, but to be sustainable, land purchase or lease arrangements must benefit, and be seen to benefit, all parties including citizens of the host country, local communities and investors.”

But the draft World Bank report itself notes a number of challenges associated with the new trend, noting that:

  • “Rarely if ever” were land deals linked to “countries’ broader development strategy.”
  • “Consultations with local communities were often weak” and, as a result, “conflicts were common, usually over land rights.”
  • “The level of formal payments required was low,” encouraging speculative investment. Further, “payments for land are often waived…and large investors often pay lower taxes than smallholders…or none at all.”
  • And perhaps most dramatically, “Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance.” Despite promises to the contrary, “investors failed to follow through on their investments plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base” and not providing the jobs and infrastructure development promised when the contract was signed.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organizations’ Director General, Jacques Diouf, worries that a “neo-colonial” agricultural system is emerging, noting that “some negotiations [between host countries and the investors] have led to unequal international relations and short-term mercantilist agriculture.” may be emerging. Food First’s Raj Patel, concurs, describing the process as neocolonial globalization.

The real food security challenge occurs in countries like Sudan, which faces its own domestic food crisis but has also signed deals to lease nearly 4 million hectares of agricultural land (and thus food exports) to other countries. Under such a situation, countries like Sudan may wind up exporting food to rich nations while, according to UN figures, some 5.6 million Sudanese people face the prospects of famine in their own country.  And with global food prices likely to continue to remain high, the prospect of continued land purchase in the developing world remains high.

Advertisements

World Bank Data

The World Bank recently announced that, effective July 1, much of its data would be available to the public online. It’s a rich dataset, focused on living standards around the world, including more than 2,000 indicators, many of which span more than 50 years. The data is a veritable treasure-trove for those interested in development. Happy reading!

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The G20 meeting in Pittsburg this week resulted in agreement on several important principles, with the group agreeing in principle to establish guidelines for bankers’ pay, developing a timetable for reforming financial regulations, and establishing a new framework for economic growth. The G20 also agreed to transfer five percent of the shares in the International Monetary Fund and three percent of the shares in the World Bank to emerging countries. The organizations have long been criticized for voting structures which over-represent the developed world at the expense of the developing world.

In other news from the previous week:

1. There were several important developments in Iran this week. On Sunday, Iran test fired a short-range missile as part of ongoing war games in the country. The missile, a Shahab-3, has range sufficient to reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. The launch comes just days after the United States announced it had discovered Iran possessed a second, secret uranium enrichment facility. France and the United Kingdom joined the United States in condemning Iran for misleading the international community. The discovery and announcement put pressure on Tehran, which maintains that the facility is used for peaceful purposes. The most recent announcement produced new signals from Russia, which had historically opposed sanctions against Iran. But after being briefed on the new facilities by the Obama administration, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated that the Russian government may be willing to consider sanctions as a way of addressing the Iranian nuclear situation.

2. Germany is headed to the polls today, with most analysts calling the election too close to call and many speculating about what kind of coalition will take control of the world’s fourth largest economy. Although Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats have been leading throughout the campaign, her support has been slipping over the past week. With low turnout forecast, observers believe that the election could still be close. Further, a quirk in the German voting system could result in Merkel’s CDU winning a plurality of seats in the Bundestag despite winning a smaller percentage of the popular vote than her rivals. Her rival, the Social Democrats, have lagged in the polls throughout the campaign but managed a late-campaign surge. No matter what the margins, negotiations around a forming a new coalition in Germany will likely be the central focus of German politics in coming days.

3. Two car bombings believed to the work of the Taliban in Pakistan killed 27 people on Saturday. The attacks targeted Pakistan’s military and police forces, coming just days after the country’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, appealed to the G20 for assistance in fighting terrorism in Pakistan. The attacks demonstrate the resilience of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has been engaged in a protracted war with the national military. Last month, the Pakistani military killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban’s main leader in Pakistan, and earlier this year, the military killed more than 3,000 Taliban militants in operations in the Swat valley region. Despite these losses, however, the Taliban remains a central threat to the stability of the Pakistani regime. 

4. The government of Guinea is moving forward with its efforts to overturn some of the contracts signed with foreign companies under the military dictatorship of Lansana Conté, whose 24 year-rule ended with his death in December. The new government has already forced Rio Tinto to return a portion of its iron ore concessions and convinced the South African gold company, AngloGold Ashanti, to establish a $10 million fund to pay for environmental damages caused by their operations in the country. On Tuesday, the government ordered the Russian aluminum company Rusal to quit the country, claiming that it owed more than$750 million in taxes, royalties, and other duties owed since 2002. With a GDP per capita of $442, Guinea remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

5. Deposed President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras last week, sneaking into the country and hiding in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Honduran security forces used water cannons and tear gas to dispurse crowds which had gathered outside the embassy in support of Zelaya. The Brazilian government has called on the international community to do more to support Zelaya’s return. Most of the international community has refused to recognize the new government and international assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has been suspended. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Brazlian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, “The international community demands that Mr Zelaya return immediately to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil’s diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras.”

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The turmoil over last week’s Iranian elections continued into this week, with thousands of people defying a statement  by the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and orders by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and the country’s Revolutionary Guard banning such protests. Over the weekend, hundreds of supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi were arrested during protests. Moussavi’s supporters believe the election was rigged, but international observers and foreign governments have so far refused to comment.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The World Bank issued a statement urging the developed world to focus on the global economy in their recovery efforts. The collapse of global credit markets over the last year, the Bank noted, had led to a dramatic decline in private capital flows, with investment in developing countries declining from $1,200 billion in 2007 to an estimated $363 billion this year. Meanwhile, announcement of the new stimulus package by the Chinese government led the World Bank to increase its forecasts for the Chinese economy this year. But the decision of the Chinese government to include a ‘Buy China’ policy in its stimulus package has led to increasing tensions over the specter of protectionism in the global recovery effort.

2. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a rare address to the country’s parliament at the Palace of Versailles this week. For more than 130 years, the French President had been constitutionally prohibited from entering parliament—an attempt to ensure legislative independence. But after the constitution was amended last year—in the name of increasingly parliamentary oversight—the restriction was removed. French Green and Communist parties boycotted the speech in protest of what they see as an attempt to increase the power of the French presidency. Sarkozy used the opportunity to outline measures intended to address the problem of rapidly detiorating public finances, sparked by the global economic crisis. In the speech, Sarkozy rejected the introduction of austerity measures, instead focusing on the need to protect jobs.

3. The situation in Iraq deteriorated over the past week, as the number of bombings as increased. On Saturday, a large truck bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk. The attack, the deadliest single attack in more than a year, killed 73 people. Meanwhile, a series of smaller attacks in Baghdad killed 15 people on Monday. The declining security situation comes as the United States prepares to begin its withdrawal from Iraqi towns, handing responsibility for day-to-day security over to Iraqi police by the end of June.

4. The speaker of the parliament in Somalia has issued a call for neighboring countries to send in troops to help prop up the country’s fragile government. The security situation in Somalia remains grim. On Thursday, the government’s security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, and more than 20 others were killed in a suicide attack by Islamic militants known as al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow the country’s western-backed government and impose its vision of strict sharia law in Somalia. So far, international assistance has been limited, and al-Shabaab has confined the influence of the government to the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Meanwhile, according to United Nations estimates, some 122,000 civilians have been forced to flee as a result of fighting which began in early May.

5. Tensions between the government of Hugo Chávez and the anti-government television station Globovisión have increased in Venezuela in recent days. Chávez accuses the station of “media terrorism” as a result of its critical coverage of his government, particularly following a minor earthquake which hit the capital, Caracdas, in early May. According to observers, the station makes an easy target for Chávez, who has stepped up his efforts to transform Venezuelan society and economy in recent months.