Monday, June 16, 2008


"Saudi Arabia unveiled its plans to develop large-scale overseas agricultural projects to secure food supplies and revealed that they were in discussions with Turkey, Ukraine, Pakistan, Sudan, and Egypt according to a report published in the Financial Times on Friday.

"The Saudi government plans to set up projects of at least 100,000 hectares in several countries to grow crops such as wheat, corn, rice, soybeans and alfalfa, a feed for livestock," Abdullah al-Obaid, the Saudi Arabian deputy agriculture minister, was quoted as saying by the FT.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest importer of barley and one of the five largest importers of rice. Saudi Arabia will also be set to become one of the world's top wheat importers when it phases out domestic production of the grain."

This is a very interesting outcome of the food crisis. It is true that the Gulf countries do not produce much more than oil, which they cannot eat. They are rich, and they will soon be investing their money in what appears to be industrial scale operations in poorer countries. This raises a number of questions: will the countries which will produce food for the Saudis and the other Gulf countries have access to food themselves? Industrial farming is a heavy drain on resources, especially water, how will the long term impacts be factored in? Who will be the beneficiaries of these food production systems in the host countries? Imagine a situation in which land and water resources will be rented to large businesses in, say, Egypt or Sudan at low prices (I heard $500 per hectare) in order to produce wheat for Saudi Arabia when the local people themselves do not have access to bread. The only people who will make money on this are the few official in charge of making the deal for renting the lands out, and the company managing the farms. As for the locals, a few of them will be hired as cheap labor on these mega farms, and they will be expected to be grateful for that.

This is how you create extremism. But I guess the national army or private security firms will deal with that.

There is, of course, a different way, one in which profits will be more equally shared between all the players. Let Egypt (or Sudan or elsewhere) produce for Saudi Arabia, but on the basis of small to medium sized farms, managed and owned by individual farmers and farming families. And let there be a deal that part of the crop will go to satisfy the country's own needs, instead of exporting and then importing the same commodity. This will reduce unemployment and induce development. And, as we have learned earlier, this will be more efficient and possibly more productive. It will also improve food security. The problem? Capital cannot anymore be concentrated into the hands of a few already too rich people who also happen to be part of the regime.


Anonymous said...

I hope your version of reality prevails, but I don't have much hope.

I am continually amazed by the enormous greed of some people. It's as if they are dogs over a bone. Not one grain of rice can be allowed escape their grasp.

Can they be called fully human?

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Greed = fully human, I am sorry to say. One of the seven deadly sins and common to all peoples.

I do like the positive vision.

Maybe it can be sold to the overlords as a good way to prevent social unrest? (You see, I cannot get away from my FDR liberal roots)

Leila Abu-Saba said...

FDR means Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His first term of office summarized here:

My mother's parents were educated but poor petty bourgeois in Virginia. SHe remembers them weeping when they heard of the death of FDR in 1944. Her best friend's father was a banker and a plantation owner (really - inherited from pre-Civil War, slavery days) and he was happy because he hated FDR.

Sometimes it's disturbing to notice how class background persists over the generations. My own dear friend's family history in America is ridiculously similar to my mother's, and we have many many political ideas in common. Is class background destiny? We Americans with our ideas of individualism and free will hate to think it.