The Globe and Mail has reported that, “Deals are being struck around the world in what has become an unprecedented rush by global investment funds to buy farmland. By some estimates these funds have sunk as much as $20-billion (U.S.) into these acquisitions. (In 2009) alone they bought 111 million acres of farmland, a tenfold increase from previous years. …Some critics have raised concerns about the amount of farmland being bought by state-owned funds. By some estimates, government funds from China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Saudi Arabia control more than 18 million acres of cultivable land, mainly in Africa.”
“It’s easy to see what’s driving the interest in farmland. Food security concerns – global agricultural productivity will have to increase 70 per cent by 2050 to feed the world, according to projections by the United Nations – and the 2008 surge in agricultural commodity prices are leading investors to look at agriculture as a promising new asset class. The returns haven’t hurt either. According to a U.S. farmland index, investments in agricultural land have significantly outperformed the stock market, generating annualized returns of 13.9 per cent in the last decade.”
The Observer‘s John Vidal has reported, “The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union’s insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.”
The Globe and Mail notes, “Today, investment funds at places as diverse as the Mormon Church, Manulife Financial Corp. and the Dallas police department are pouring billions of dollars into farmland. In Canada, the CPP Investment Board is looking at investing in farmland and four companies are already snapping up thousands of acres in Saskatchewan – Bonnefield, Pike Management, AgCapital Partners and Assiniboia Capital. A subsidiary of Toronto-based Sprott Resource Corp., called One Earth Farms, is also working with first nations to manage up to one million acres of farmland in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. …The province (of Saskatchewan) has some of the most productive, and least expensive, farmland in the world. But restrictive ownership rules have largely kept out foreigners, pension funds and publicly traded companies. Pressure is mounting inside and outside Canada to change the rules and open up the province.”
Vidal highlights, “Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with 2.8 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3 million hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations. The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2 billion acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. …Water is also controversial. Local government officers in Ethiopia told the Observer that foreign companies that set up flower farms and other large intensive farms were not being charged for water. ‘We would like to, but the deal is made by central government’, said one. In Awassa, the al-Amouni farm uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians.”
National Farmers Union president Terry Boehm has stated, “We believe that family farmers should be the food producers in this country. When you shift land ownership, you move into a new feudalism where those that work on the land become labourers. In the Prairie region and many parts of Canada, we have land resources that other countries can’t imagine having. Who do people want producing their food and under what kind of methods do they want it done?” To read a 29-page National Farmers Union report on land grabbing, farm debt, corporate ownership and the impact this has on our food sovereignty, please go to http://www.nfu.ca/press_releases/2010/06-07-losing_grip.pdf.
THE COUNCIL OF CANADIANS: At the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal this past February, social movements and organizations released a collective appeal against land grabbing. More than 150 organizations – including the Council of Canadians – have signed on to this letter. This letter will be presented during the demonstrations against the G20 agriculture ministers meeting in Paris on June 22-23. More on this soon. The Council of Canadians has also raised the issue of virtual water exports, an issue of concern when corporations buy farmland, grow water intensive crops and then export those around the world. To read about Maude Barlow’s paper on the virtual water trade, go to http://canadians.org/media/water/2011/25-May-11.html. The Council of Canadians also has the G20 leaders summit in Cannes, France on November 3-4 on our radar. (Incidentally, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has commented that this G20 summit will cost one-tenth of the price of last year’s G20 summit in Toronto.)