Since 2001, over 200 million hectares of farmland have been traded, that is the equivalent to four times the size of France.
Even though the phenomenon of land purchase is not new, the crisis has given it a major boost because of growing pressure on supply faced with rising global demand and high agricultural prices since 2010. Investors are increasingly turning to land, which has become a strategic asset.
But investment funds are not the only ones interested in the farmlands of Eastern Europe, South America and Africa. States with limited land and water resources and high population growth are effectively seeking to secure provisions by buying or renting land. Consequently, on 18th January, a Chinese conglomerate signed a memorandum of cooperation for the exploitation of more than 30,000 acres in northern Sierra Leone.
This land rush is a reminder of the eminently strategic character of this new green gold, but also the associated risks which contribute to increasing the financialisation of agriculture, encourage speculative behaviour on land and consequently, volatility in international markets. It also raises the question of land management in the countries that possess arable land or potential farmland and the place of national farmers in land use. Therefore, as we have already stressed on numerous occasions1, these practices must be supervised and regulated.
The increase in land purchases also puts into question the logic of the evaluation of the benefits associated with agricultural trade liberalization as envisaged by the WTO, which is based on the assumption of land fixity. Therefore, before re-launching the negotiations on international trade, it is necessary to integrate the various factors that destabilize international trade today and which are not included in the Doha Round.
1 Please see momagri’s article ““Land monopoly”: The World Bank aims at regulating land acquisitions”, http://momagri.fr/UK/a-look-at-the-news/Land-monopoly-The-World-Bank-aims-at-regulating-land-acquisitions_744.html and “For a better supervision of farmland purchases in developing countries”, http://momagri.fr/UK/focus-on-issues/For-a-better-supervision-of-farmland-purchases-in-developing-countries_702.html