Middle Eastern countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are securing their future food supplies by trying to buy land in poorer nations.
The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia wants to set up a series of farms abroad, each of which could exceed 100,000 hectares. Their produce would not be traded: it would be shipped directly to the owners. Through "secretive bilateral agreements", the paper reports, "the investors hope to be able to bypass any potential trade restriction that the host country might impose during a crisis".
Both Ethiopia and Sudan have offered the oil states hundreds of thousands of hectares. This is easy for the corrupt governments of these countries: in Ethiopia the state claims to own most of the land; in Sudan an envelope passed across the right desk magically transforms other people's property into foreign exchange.
But 5.6 million Sudanese and 10 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food aid. The deals their governments propose can only exacerbate such famines.
There is nothing fair about the deals I have described. Where once they used gunboats and sepoys, the rich nations now use chequebooks and lawyers to seize food from the hungry.
[Excerpt of an article by George Monbiot, The Guardian]