The New York Times (Sunday) and the Washington Post (Monday) carried stories about what the Post described as the “booming business of land leasing, by which relatively rich countries and investment firms are securing 40 to 99 year contracts to farm vast tracts of land.” The New York Times, in a similar article about this practice, asked in a headline, “Is There Such A Thing As Agro Imperialism?“.
The Times story begins in Saudi Arabia, describing that country’s efforts to find a stable source of food. The Times wrote that the Saudi’s “intended to spend billions of dollars to establish plantations to produce rice and other staple crops in African nations like Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Ethiopia.” (Ethiopian plantation above.) The newspaper describes this new, international market for farmland as being driven by rich, but land poor countries in the Middle East and Asia looking to outsource their food production. And a lot of that development is taking place in Africa.
The Post, therefore, begins its story in Ethiopia, which is offering cheap labor and cheap land to attract these land investors. One ad boasts: “Vast, fertile, irrigable land at low rent. Abundant water resources. Cheap labor. Warmest hospitality.” The development is following the path of the U.S. South in the mid 20th century, when cheap land and labor were offered to northern industries looking for lower cost places to produce. Good stories.