Category Archives: Landgrabbing

Richard Wright questions the dependence of Europe on Black Sea grain exports

Richard Wright in the Scottish Farmer says that events in the Ukraine give another reminder of the global nature of agriculture. Ukraine is the world’s top barley exporter and a major wheat supplier, much of it going to Europe:

ukraine wheat field“This week, global grain futures rose sharply, although prices are still far from where they were this time last year. This is partly because most crops are now in the ground, and the expectation is that by the time harvest comes around the situation will have resolved itself.

“However the dependence of Europe on Black Sea exports cannot be ignored, and the situation has been complicated by some of the major Ukrainian ports being in the area now controlled by Russia”.

He recalled the 2011 drought in Russia and Ukraine which drove one of many spikes in grain prices because export limits were introduced and Russia also banned grain exports.

Mr Wright – and others – question our dependence on these countries for imports, where political factors as well as weather is a threat to the stability of the supply chain; the Chinese government has leased thousands of acres in Ukraine to grow crops to improve its food security.

He concluded that whoever replaces Dacian Ciolos as EU farm commissioner next October needs to take the issue of food security and a productive European agricultural industry seriously – and events in Ukraine and the threat to its grain supply should serve as a reminder of why that is important.


The biotech industry retreats from Europe but is courting Africa

owen paterson on return from chinaOn 25-26 February the UK environment secretary Owen Paterson “confirmed” that he will leave flood-ridden Britain to attend an event persuading Africans – in the name of science – to accept GMOs.

As the biotech industry is in retreat in Europe, with corporations like BASF, Syngenta and Monsanto all halting the development and commercialisation of GM crops here, it is looking further afield.

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which published a report on GM last June, has organised the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. An extract from page 9 conveys its stance:

easac text

prof anne gloverThe leading speaker is Professor Anne Glover, Professor of Molecular biology and Cell biology at the University of Aberdeen and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission.

She is regarded as a pro-GM scientist and MEP Corinne Lepage, a former French minister for the environment, has called for her resignation on the ground of conflict of interest; Professor Glover is a shareholder in a biotech company and set up the firm Remedios, which was named Scotland’s “Best New Biotechnology Company” for Biotech Scotland by its industry peers.

Professor Glover said in an interview with EurActiv on 24 July: “There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food”, adding that the precautionary principle no longer applies.

Will the serious problems of GMOs be outlined?

  • the millions of acres of US farmland choked by herbicide-resistant superweeds,
  • the insect pests who have become resistant to chemicals used,
  • the animal studies that have shown health risks
  • an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.

Only two African speakers have been proposed; one is Calestous Juma, who has been based in the US for years and directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an investor in Monsanto and agribusiness commodity giant, Cargill.

There are reports that African farmers and civil society have repeatedly rejected GM crops, some asked their governments to ban them and the last word was given in the Guardian, earlier last year:

On the Keiyo escarpment

On the Keiyo escarpment

Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: “It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops.

“Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.”

* On the 14th it was announced that Paterson will no longer be travelling to Africa



Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism


stefano libertiA widely travelled investigative Italian journalist, Stefano Liberti, has recorded what he found on journeys in several countries, meeting landowners, displaced local people and commodity traders.

He visited a high tech Dutch-owned model farm in Ethiopia; a conference in Riyadh, where representatives of Third World governments compete to attract Saudi investors; meetings in Rome where the fate of nations is decided; Latin America’s “united republic of soya”, the ethanol-obsessed US farm state of Iowa and the headquarters of the Movement of Landless Workers in São Paulo.

The book in which he recorded all this is called Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism, translated by Enda Flannelly and published by Verso.

landgrabbing coverIt exposes how modern-day corporations and governments are raiding the Third World. They refer to buying up vast tracts of the Third World as ‘land leasing’; their critics see it as ‘land grabbing’ – a new era of colonialism, stealing millions of hectares of fertile soil to feed wealthy westerners.

The FT’s review by its world trade editor Shawn Donnan points out that: “For all the advances in the business of food, the central fact of our age is that we by and large still need land to grow our maize and graze our cattle. Which is why – spying both vulnerability and opportunity – governments and corporations set about buying up acreage around the globe in the wake of the 2007-08 food price crisis”.

Shawn wryly comments that Liberti’s answers to his own questions are unlikely to be the same as those the Financial Times might offer in its editorials but admits that his questions are worth posing and certainly worth our time.

After some defensive remarks about financial naivety and so on, Donnan admits there has been “at least the whiff of exploitation about some of the deals made by governments and corporations in recent years. And you do not have to be a hoodie-wearing anti-capitalist to raise your eyebrows when Liberti details the control of the big five global commodities trading houses and a small clutch of landowners over the soya fields of Brazil’s Matto Grosso state”.

Citing predicted world population growth, he ends: “Technology has so far saved us from a Malthusian disaster. But add the predicted impact of climate change to the mix and there is plenty of reason for governments to be concerned and investors to pay attention. Land grabbing will undoubtedly be with us for many years to come”.