By Javier Blas in London
Daewoo Logistics of South Korea has secured farmland in Madagascar to grow food crops for Seoul, in a deal that diplomats and consultants said was the largest of its kind.
The company said it had leased 1.3m hectares of farmland – about half the size of Belgium – from Madagascar’s government for 99 years. It plans to ship the maize and palm oil harvests back to South Korea. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The pursuit of foreign farm investments is a clear sign of how countries are seeking food security following this year’s crisis – which saw record prices for commodities such as wheat and rice and food riots in countries from Egypt to Haiti.
Prices for agricultural commodities have tumbled by about half from such levels but countries remain concerned about long-term supplies.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation warned this year that the race by some countries to secure farmland overseas risked creating a “neo-colonial” system. Those fears could be increased by the fact that Daewoo’s farm in Madagascar represents about half the African country’s arable land, according to estimates by the US government.
Shin Dong-hyun, a senior manager at Daewoo Logistics in Seoul, said the company would develop the arable land for farming over the next 15 years, using labour from South Africa, and intended to replace about half South Korea’s maize imports.
South Korea, a heavily populated but resource-poor nation, is the fourth-largest importer of maize and among the 10 largest buyers of soyabeans.
Carl Atkins, of consultants Bidwells Agribusiness, said Daewoo Logistics’ investment in Madagascar was the largest it had seen. “The project does not surprise me, as countries are looking to improve food security, but its size – it does surprise me.”
Concepción Calpe, a senior economist at the FAO in Rome, said the investment came after this year’s food crisis. “Countries are looking to buy or lease farmland to improve their food security,” she said.
Al-Qudra Holding, an investment company based in Abu Dhabi, said in August it planned to buy 400,000 hectares of arable land in countries in Africa and Asia by the end of the first quarter of 2009.
Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, said this year its government was “very eager” to provide hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land to Middle Eastern countries for investment.