New code of conduct could limit aggressive moves by China, South Korea and Gulf states who have been buying vast tracts of agricultural land

Aggressive moves by China, South Korea and Gulf states to buy vast tracts of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa could soon be limited by a new global international protocol.

A rush for African farmland has seen the equivalent of Italy's entire arable land mass bought up by businesses from emerging economies.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Bank are now discussing a code of conduct for land buyers in Africa. Amid increasing concerns over food security, it could include ensuring that consent is given prior to buying land from local people. A first draft is expected next spring.

Alex Wijeratna, Action Aid's food rights campaign officer, said: "There's a new scramble for land in Africa. It's growing at an incredible rate. There's massive secrecy, poor communities can't get information and

they're not being consulted.

"There's an argument for a moratorium on sales until there's a proper framework to assess them. We are concerned that an agreement will not come fast enough."

Earlier this year, the legendary speculator George Soros highlighted a new farmland-buying frenzy caused by growing population, scarce water supplies and climate change. South Korea has bought huge areas of Madagascar, while Chinese interests have purchased large swathes of Senegal to supply it with sesame.

"I'm convinced farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time," Mr. Soros said. "Eventually, of course, food prices will get high enough that the market probably will be flooded with supply through development of new land or technology or both, and the bull market will end. But that's a long ways away yet."

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2009