Monday, May 3, 2010

Arab food security or land grab?

"Sudan, Africa's biggest country by area, has been a major recipient of farmland investment.
It is keen to attract more, Tahar Sadik Ali, deputy head of Sudan's Agricultural Research Establishment, told Reuters. "We have signed farmland leasing deals with countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to grow mainly wheat and maize," he said. "We expect similar deals with other countries including Egypt to invest in farmland in the eastern and southern areas.""

It would be interesting to learn more about the nature of the deals, and how they benefit Sudan, if they do. I know everyone is always ready to shout "LAND GRAB", but we have to remember that in all the plans for economic integration of the Arab countries, which is a goal we all yearn for, Sudan is given the role of the breadbasket. So to have food for the Gulf countries produced in the Sudan, financed with the oil surplus could be seen as a step towards this integration. As long as the deals are fair and benefit the peasants and the food exported come from surplus. But then again, when we talked about Arab integration, the formal implementation mechanism was never really discussed. I doubt very much this would have been in the form of support to small producers or that it involved equitable distribution of profits. Also, in the agricultural countries of the Arab world, both farmers and governments are always calling for investments from the oil-rich nation in their agriculture in order to modernize it and to get a captive market and to produce a surplus that could be of use to all. 

So there's one of these "tensions" I've been thinking about a lot these days: do we or do we not want to promote Arab agricultural integration and to foster inter Arab investments in farming? If you think of it as land grab, then we don't, but if you think of it as Arab food security, then we do. I guess it will all have to be decided in light of the nature of the relationship between the different Arab countries rather than by a preconceived image promoted by some Western NGOs.

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