Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Are Corporations, Emerging Powers and Petro-States Snapping Up Huge Chunks of Farmland in the Developing World?

(Toles' cartoon used w/out permission)

Because the next "bubble" is gonna be in 'commodities,' i.e., food. The planet's population of humans seems to be expanding, and the capacity to feed the new arrivals is gonna be crucial.:
"In the past six months, big players in the global economy have grabbed 50 million acres of arable land, from Africa to Southeast Asia."
Scott Thill, on Alternet today, makes the following case, which seems (unfortunately) irrebuttable:
Stop me if you think you've heard this one before:
Investment banks, sovereign wealth funds and other barely regulated financial entities in search of fat paydays go on buying binges structurally adjusted to maximize their earnings reports and employee bonuses, while simultaneously screwing their business associates and everyone else in the process. It's all done in near-total secrecy, and by the time everyone finds out about it, they're already in the poorhouse.
That's more or less the playbook for the derivatives and credit-default swaps gold rush that ruined the global economy, which cratered in 2007 and has yet to recuperate.

The bubble money has now moved on from housing and turned to the commodities markets, especially global food production. Given what that money did to the housing market, things don't look good for local communities whose land is being bought up by governments, sovereign wealth and hedge funds, and other investors on the hunt for real value in a hyperreal economy.

Entrenched and developing economic powers -- the U.K., China, South Korea, India and more -- have launched land rushes to outsource production of everything from staples like rice, wheat, corn and sugar to finance bubbles like biofuels. That includes oil-wealthy Gulf States, which recently feasted on commodities speculation that exploded oil prices in 2008.

The hard numbers are alarming: According to the Guardian, in the last six months over 20 million hectares (around 50 million acres) of arable land, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia, have been sold or negotiated for sale or lease. That's about half the size of all arable land in Europe, or the size of entire U.S. states North Dakota or Oklahoma.

The aptly titled report, " 'Land Grabbing' by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries," from the International Food Policy Research Institute, which declined to be interviewed for this article, explains that "details about the status of the deals, the size of land purchased or leased, and the amount invested are often still murky."

It's no wonder: The economic valuation of land and water has increased in concurrence with both price commodities and the ravages of climate change, whose droughts, wildfires and other extreme environmental events are quickly shrinking what's left of the planet's arable land and clean water.
To say nothing of the growing, profit-driven impetus to switch production from edible crops, to bio-energy crops to feed the fuel needs of a growing planet.

When food supplies change in the wild, populations evolutionarily suited to consume such resources either increase or decrease, depending on the direction of change. Malthus used this observation to predict (so far, correctly) that populations would continue to expand to consume the amount of food available to support them. It's true of all creatures, though humans alone, apparently, have the wherewithal to intervene in natural cycles to increase production of food when the natural events would indicate a diminishment. So human population is immune to (small) decreases in natural foodstuffs.

Nothing about humanity's current situation is in any way 'sustainable' in the long term. "Speculating" in this incipient tragic reality is ghoulish, although not unexpected.

1 comment:

P M Prescott said...

Hell, Monsanto is going to create the crisis just like Enron did with energy.