You remember the Banana Republics? The original being Honduras?
Well, now there are Cereal Republics…
Ethiopia’s recent history is punctuated by famine. Severe droughts, on-going conflicts and stagnating agricultural growth have been reproducing widespread food insecurities for decades. Compounded by cereal prices doubling over the last year, many people are struggling to meet even their most basic food needs. Concurrently the World Food Programme has had to reduce emergency food rations due to the high global food prices. Right now, at least 6.2 million people in Ethiopia are seriously threatened by hunger and malnutrition, and require urgent food assistance.
At the same time Esaya Kebede, Director of the Ethiopian Agricultural Investment Agency, revealed that the Ethiopian government has so far designated a total of 3 million hectares of agricultural land, an area around the size of Belgium, to be leased to incoming foreign investors. For a country on the constant brink of famine, this is a perplexing move. What is behind such massive land giveaways?
The land deals are part of a wider global trend, dubbed by many as neo-colonial land grabs. Shocked by the price spikes and distribution bottlenecks during the global food price crisis, wealthy food-importing countries from the Middle-East, India and China are scrambling to buy up enormous tracts of arable land on the African continent in order to long-distance farm for their own domestic markets. Similar to the Central American banana republics of the early twentieth century, foreign agri-businesses are working in close collaboration with their own governments to establish enormous agricultural plantations in African countries. Exploitative labor conditions, peasant land dispossessions and environmentally destructive industrial farming methods spring to mind. The only difference is that the target crops now are not cash crops like bananas, rubber or cocoa, but basic food staples, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Are we facing the emergence of neo-colonial ‘cereal republics’ throughout the developing world?
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