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Pro: Pundits threaten modernisation of agricultural investments

Gulf News | 14 January 2010

By Mohammad Al Asoomi, Special to Gulf News

It seems that dealing with the developing world is a complicated matter at all levels. There is historical baggage that is not easy to get rid of or get over, especially in post-colonial countries that continue to blame foreigners for their economic backwardness.

Although these countries became sovereign more than half a century ago, economic mismanagement, corruption, instability and internal conflict resulted in the deterioration of their economies after independence.

The story is always the same. Developing countries love to blame foreign companies and the shortage of assistance from rich countries for their economic woes; while their internal problems — which do not contribute to attracting foreign investment or harnessing local resources to develop these communities — are ignored.

Regretfully, some intellectuals play a negative role by adopting attitudes that drive away investment and result in deepening the economic crises suffered by the poorest of these communities. This negative role has an impact in areas that are unable to protect their interests in the long run.

Changing trend

For example, take the change in orientation of oil exporting countries after the international markets' food supply crisis of 2008 and 2009. A number of these countries, including Gulf Cooperation Council members, decided to invest heavily in the agricultural sector of developing countries, especially Arab countries that have agricultural land and water supplies.

This sort of investment was aimed at increasing development rates and the living standards of Arab farmers.

However, the move was scuttled by slogan-chanters who claimed they were defending small farmers whose lands would be converted into big farms.

This resulted in agricultural sector investments drying up despite the fact that the move was in the interests of small farmers in the developing world. Many of them still use primitive agricultural methods, which does not raise their standard of living.

Farms in developing countries lack modern machinery and tools. Manual labour is utilised in the confines of a family work environment. Children are driven towards working on the land, and are thus deprived of education and health care. Production is barely enough to sustain those tilling the land.

The substitute offered by oil-rich countries is the establishment of big farms supplied with modern technology and fertilisers to double production. It aims to secure the rights of workers, elevate their living standards, educate children and provide health care.

Comprehesive plan

In other words, these are projects that are comprehensive in the economic, educational, health and community sectors.

Greater production provides opportunities that cannot be overlooked, especially in poor developing countries that are unable to offer appropriate education and health care to those working in agricultural areas.

So which option is better? Letting the current status quo in the agricultural sector prevail, with all its misery, backwardness and absence of modern technology? Or taking advantage of available opportunities offered by oil producing countries searching for safe food sources, which reflects the interest of both parties, receiving and exporting capital?

This sort of investment does not entail the confiscation of land from small farmers as pointed out by some writers; instead, it means a strategic partnership for the optimal investment of available potential in developing countries.

Technologies

The fact that production is much less than that of their counterparts in developed countries because of backward technologies and the absence of skilled workers in the agricultural sector cannot be ignored.

At the same time, if this orientation is obstructed, the alternative will be greater agricultural investments in developed countries such as Canada and Australia.

Both countries have welcomed Arab Gulf investments in their agricultural sectors. These countries also offer guarantees that are unavailable in developing countries. The concern now is that the slogan-chanters will take to criticising oil countries for not investing in Arab countries.

This when GCC countries also take into consideration their contribution in developing regional economies in the interest of integration.

Dr. Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert

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