From the Bosphorus: Straight - A proposal to be stewed, roasted, baked or boiled

The Hurriyet | 4 January 2010

It was back in 1729 that Irish essayist Jonathan Swift made his satirical “modest proposal” to resolve hunger in his homeland, the cause of which was the near-complete hegemony of England over Ireland’s agriculture.

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London,” Swift wrote, “that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”

As the world moves rapidly toward precisely analogous forms of the agriculture systems that prompted Swift’s infamous remark, we concede surprise at the modest proposal by Alparslan Korkmaz, head of the Investment Support and Promotional Agency. As we reported yesterday, Korkmaz is in talks with “three big funds” to lease vast tracts of farm land to foreign investors. The report indicated these potential investors include China, the Gulf and South Korea.

Without question, Turkey’s agriculture sector is boxing below its weight. With fertile soil, adequate (if not abundant) water resources and a rich tradition of food production, Turkey should be a major global player. Turkey’s arable land, for example, is equivalent to 15 percent of all that in the entire European Union. The much-heralded GAP Project in the southeast has been touted as a panacea for decades, but remains largely a testament to bad planning. Agriculture remains a largely subsistence affair in the southeast and is rapidly declining as a share of GDP and employment.

Foreign investment, particularly from the tech-savvy Dutch, Israelis and some American firms, is something we welcome. Much of the export-led success along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is due to investment by these firms and Turkey should encourage more.

But what Korkmaz is proposing sounds an awful lot like something else. Just since 2006, the countries Korkmaz mentions have leased nearly 20 million hectares, primarily in Africa, to which they will enjoy exclusive production and harvest rights. One dramatic example is Madagascar, where Daewoo from South Korea leased 1.3 million hectares of farm land – half of all the farm land on the island. This is not liberal international capitalism. This is, in the words of U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director Jacque Diouf, who has condemned the trend, “neo-colonialism.”

This kind of investment may bring capital. It may create employment. So did the East India Company. It will not bring significant technology transfer, which is what Turkey needs. We are the last ones wishing to spark another round of xenophobic rejection of foreign investment. But this proposal smacks of the 18th and 19th century capitalizations of the Ottoman government that made Turkey a vassal of European powers. Thanks Mr. Korkmaz. But no thanks.
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