Food pirates: Indian firms buying farm land in Africa

Vinod Reddy's flower farm in Ethiopia (Photo: Venkatesha Babu - click for article)

Ground Reality | Friday, June 26, 2009

Devinder Sharma

Indian firms are not only buying land in India, but are also moving across the shores. I call them the 'food pirates' and they are on a land grab spree. If you remember, we had a blog sometimes back about outsourcing food production wherein we had listed some Indian firms who were buying land in Latin America.

The list of the 'food pirates' is expanding. Imagine 80 Indian companies buying farmlands in Ethiopia, and that too with the connivance of the Indian government. One of these companies, the Bangalore-based Karuturi Global Ltd., has already acquired 8,50,000 acres of land in Ethiopia for cultivating food crops, sugarcane, palm oil etc. The company has started to farm in 30,000 acres. The same company has also acquired land in Kenya, and claims to to hold "one of the largest agriculture land banks in the world."

These 'food pirates' also have international support. Although the FAO is unhappy with the way these land acquisitions are taking place, calling them 'neo-colonism', the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC., as usual is backing these initiatives. It calls for a 'code of coduct' to be followed by these companies, but otherwise does not see anything terribly wrong with such land grabs. I think the time has come to examine the dubious role IFPRI has played all along in destroying food self-sufficiency in the developing world, more so in the African countries.

Dinesh C Sharma of Mail Today has done an excellent report about how Indian firms are trying to gobble cultivable land in Africa. These companies are going to produce food for shipping it back to India taking advantage of the duty-free options that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are being provided with under the WTO negotiations. I wonder whether the international community realises that who will produce food for the people living in the African countries where these foreign companies, including Indian business, will grow food not for the people of Africa but for shipping it backhome.

If India had allowed foreign companies to buy agricultural land and grow food for shipping it backhome, I am sure there would have been an uproar. I wonder why the people (and more importantly the political leaders and elite) of the African and Latin American countries are not opposing and driving these companies out from within their national borders. The reason is simple. The rich and elite of every country is the real beneficiary of the process of globalisation. They see nothing wrong in such destructive policies, as long as they get the benefit. They are willing to compromise on even the national security as long as it brings them profits, visible through the ever-rising stock market.
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