Sunday, June 6, 2010

Land Grab World Cup - 2010 - "Location Location Location"

Everyone is getting pretty excited about the World Cup eh? Despite some of the less than flattering press, the World Cup of Soccer, promises to be a bit of a coming of age party for South Africa. The nation of Nelson hosting the world. Cool.

What many people are not so aware of, is what is really going on in Africa these days. Other than an impression that consists of anarchy and pirates in Somalia, AIDS throughout, and maybe a bit of diamond trading, we just don't hear all that much about Africa.

Africa nowadays is all about three words: location location location. Or, expressed in one word, L - A - N - D.

The rush is on. The latest scam to make the news, Friday's story from the Financial Times about an alleged Merseyside-based swindle in which perps schemed to pay $2.5 M to Liberian officials in connection with land rights that they hoped would earn them over $2 B when the jungle was rented out for its carbon credit value. Apparently, included in the sweetheart deal - a clause that would have obliged Liberia to cover any shortfalls in the eventual revenue - LOL.

In short, the African real estate market is on fire as this burnt jungle scene in Sierre Leone attests:
Although the Liberia scheme involved a supposed jungle-saving premise, the vast majority of the land grabs are designated for industrial farms, whether for food, oil or other cash crops.

Like the infamous and eventually scrapped South Korean Daewoo plan to "buy Madagascar"... (actually a 99-year lease was attempted on a quarter of Madagascar's arable land).

There have been reports for a while of rich Middle Eastern oil kingdoms diversifying into land which would provide a source of food into the future. However according to a story in UPI, the land grab has intensified of late:

* China has leased almost 7 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow palm oil
* one investment fund has reportedly leased as much as 2.5 million acres from a "warlord" in Sudan
* an estimated 125 million acres (double the size of Great Britain) has been acquired or is in negotiation throughout Africa
* Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since '07

Obviously, as this land is turned over into industrial farming, the resulting ecological and social consequences will be devastating.

As this phenomenon appears to be occurring throughout Africa, in so many different countries of unsure stability and governance, whose people speak in hundreds of languages, it is unclear even to what extent all of the deals could ever even be verified or quantified.

The only solution I could suggest, at least in terms of quantifying and tracking the problem, would be to establish a Land Grad Registry. You never know, someone might latch onto the idea and run with it...

Hope so...

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