A better land grab for China?

Change.org | May 27, 2010

by Te-Ping Chen

So this is what a civilized land grab looks like.

As Jina wrote earlier this morning, the unsettling sight of wealthier nations buying up swaths of Africa for food and crop production has stoked fear around the globe of a new "scramble" for the continent's resources. In Sudan, the warlord Paulino Matip has struck a deal with the CEO of New York-based investment firm Larch Capital to lease 1 million acres. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, China has leased 7 million acres of land.

But as Chinese investors go abroad, a new "land grab" is unfolding in their own backyards.

Not the traditional kind of Chinese land scuffle, in which residents are forcibly evicted by local officials and developers. I'm referring to the $16 billion agricultural zone that Singapore currently plans to develop in northeastern China, as part of the tiny country's plans to shore up its own food security.

At a sprawling 900 square miles, this "Modern Agricultural Food Zone" in Jilin will be fully twice the size of Singapore, the projected home of thousands of livestock and future rice, strawberry and ginseng fields. And unlike many of the land deals that have been made under cloudy circumstances in Africa, here's why I actually think that — as Singapore officials have put it — for both countries, this deal does have the potential to be a real "win-win."

First of all, based on media accounts so far, the deal really does appear to involve both Singapore's government and Jilin municipal officials. In addition to Singapore, the Chinese also plan to make a substantial investment into the food zone, which will ultimately produce corn and soybeans for Chinese consumers, as well.

And that's not all. There's no hiding the fact that China's food system is notoriously dirty and disease-ridden — from the use of "night soil" on supermarket crops to the spread of tons of powdered milk tainted with melanine. By contrast, Singapore has a long history of sourcing its food from all over the globe, and is home to a more stringent food safety regime. If all goes as planned, Singapore Food Industries will set up a pig farm in the "Modern Agricultural Food Zone," which will partner with China's DaChan food and Singapore's Agri-food and Veterinary authority to help maintain a disease-free agricultural zone and promote quality food processing.

Better food and know-how for China, more food for Singapore: if the deal actually comes to pass, it strikes me as a fairly solid bargain. Now, if only other land deals proliferating around the globe, including China's ventures in Africa, could exhibit a similar kind of partnership.

Te-Ping Chen is a Change.org Editor. In recent years, her writing has appeared in the Nation Magazine, the South China Morning Post magazine, Le Soir, and Slate.com.

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