Posts Tagged 'Cambodia'

The New World Order: A Land Grab Looms

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

SEOUL — SOUTH KOREA’S DAEWOO LOGISITCS recently locked down half of Madagascar’s arable land for agriculture exports back home, according the Financial Times. But the real kicker, and what has the London paper using words like “neo-colonialism,” is that Daewoo isn’t expecting to pay a dollar for the land.

The Indian Ocean island will simply gain employment opportunities from Daewoo’s 99-year lease of 1.3m hectares, officials at the company said. They emphasised that the aim of the investment was to boost Seoul’s food security.

“We want to plant corn there to ensure our food security. Food can be a weapon in this world,” said Hong Jong-wan, a manager at Daewoo. “We can either export the harvests to other countries or ship them back to Korea in case of a food crisis.”

The local Maeil Business Newspaper (매일경제) bitterly refuted the Times’ report on Friday. The paper said Daewoo will invest 6 billion dollars over the next 20 years into the East African island nation. It added that while the South Korean government has not directly responded to the FT’s coverage, Seoul sees the report as a “malicious distortion.”

In an unashamedly biased front-page story Friday, the Maeil asked: “Could (the FT report) be a sign of greed over Europe’s lost hegemony in Africa, once considered its back yard?”

Also on Friday, the FT reported that Kuwait and Qatar, along with Asian nations including South Korea, are looking to scoop up land in Cambodia in return for sizable investments.

The trend is worrisome. Should food shortage fears like those that rippled through Asia earlier this year spike again, capital-rich nations will surely start to horde. Poorer agricultural nations will be left in the lurch, and unable to feed their people, they’ll resort to outside aid. This would give birth to a new power structure that could indeed be characterized as colonial.

If Daewoo’s Hong is right about food becoming a “weapon,” and he may be, then our world is set to open a new dystopian era. It’s hard not to wonder when reading quotes like these whether humanity has lost its vision; whether we have regressed from modern civilization into a new global feudalism.

(Edited on November 22, 2008)

Perspective: The Food Crisis, from Wisconsin to Cambodia

bags of rice, thailand. photo by IRRI images.

I WISH I’D HAD A TAPE RECORDER. One day the manager at the cafe where I work was lamenting the climbing cost of her weekly groceries, the next she was attempting to justify the higher prices on our soup.

“[Another cafe] is charging five dollars for a cup that’s the same size!” she said, explaining why it was now costing our customers a dollar more for a product that we dump out of a bag. The economic reasoning seemed rather dubious to me, especially juxtaposed against her earlier complaints.

“This is how food prices go up,” I said to her dryly. She shot me a look that seemed to say, Whatever.

It was an illustrative moment. While I can’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of the looming food crisis, amid all the factors that lay out of human control — floods, poor crops, shortages, etc. — the common denominator appears to be human greed. This has manifested itself on a range of levels, from questionable price gouging to grain hoarding.

With recent riots over food prices in Haiti and the IHT reporting that elementary schools in rural Cambodia are being forced to suspend free breakfast programs, it’s obvious that — as ever — the world’s poorest are the first to feel the pinch of this greed. But in some backwards way it’s hopeful that Americans are too; proof that the distance of oceans doesn’t insulate us from everything.

The worrisome aspect of that equation is this: Americans have agency and buying power, whereas citizens of third world nations have little to none. Bloomberg says that hoarding by eager Wall Streeters is already adding to the pain of farmers and consumers.

And so we’re left with a reality that has always existed in some form but has rarely been so plainly presented — unless we check greed and panic in this situation, people will starve and die.

Looking at soaring food costs as an opportunity for capital gains is one-dimensional and shortsighted. Those inching up their prices hoping to make an extra buck are only going to turn around to find their dollars don’t go as far in the aisles of the grocery store. But Statesiders ought to reflect on the fact that on the other side of the world, the consequences are more real; kids going to school with empty bellies, families grinding by on rations bought with $2 a day.


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