As global populations and food prices rise and environmental degradation intensifies, transnational corporations and some governments are buying up vast tracts of farmland where it is still available — in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Investors, frightened by the financial catastrophes they themselves helped cause, see sure profits in this. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, between 37 and 49 million acres in poor countries have been sold or have been under negotiation for foreign purchase since 2006. Often only the head of the selling state knows the actual extent. But it is public knowledge that Sudan has leased 1.5 million hectares of farmland to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Egypt, and South Korea for 99 years; that Egypt plans to use 840,000 hectares in Uganda for wheat and corn; and that the Democratic Republic of Congo has offered to lease 10 million hectares to South African firms.
Investors' claims that they will increase productivity in regions noted for mass hunger are undermined by the fact that much of the land leased or sold is used for biofuel crops, or for foodgrains that are directly exported to the leasing countries or to new owners. On Kenya's Yala River, successful farmers are at risk of being driven off their land because the American corporation, Dominion Farms, has built a dam upstream. Local farmers complain of flooding of their crops and worse and Dominion denies the allegations. Agricolonialism often gets a foothold where the leasing or selling state is weak or corrupt and has failed to implement land reform and improve agriculture. Some resistance is occurring, particularly in Asia. Protests have halted Chinese plans to use three million acres of Philippine land. In Madagascar a proposed 99-year deal with South Korea contributed to the overthrow of President Marc Ravalomanana earlier this year. Pakistan has announced that 100,000 of its own security forces will guard foreign-owned land. With the G-8 unable to agree on a code of practice over agricolonialism, the world could be watching the birth of a global version of the East India Company