Blimey. I’ve written here before about the growing importance of security of supply concerns in agricultural trade, and the fact that some countries – notably China – are seeking to forge long term purchase agreements with third countries, or indeed to lease or buy land outright.
But the news that South Korea has just struck a 99 year deal with Madagascar to lease an area half the size of Belgium to grow palm oil and no less than half of South Korea’s corn demands, is arresting nonetheless. As Carl Atkin, one of the authors of the Bidwells report on competition for land at the start of the year, comments in the FT: “The project does not surprise me, as countries are looking to improve food security, but its size – it does surprise me.”
As with previous projects along the same lines, the big question is whether developing countries (and particularly their poor people) will really benefit from such projects. After initially making very enthusiastic noises about the potential for such projects to bring vital investment to bear, the World Bank and the FAO are now sounding a notably more cautious note about who benefits from them, as Javier Blas’s excellent in-depth piece on the trend a few months back noted.
In the case of South Korea’s project, it looks as though benefits for the poor may be very limited indeed: although fully half of Madagascar’s arable land is to be leased, the labour is to be shipped in from South Africa.
Update: unbelievably, it turns out that South Korea acquired the lease for free – see this later post for more.