Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Food For Thought

Appropriate for the holiday season as we gorge ourselves, two weeks ago, the Daewoo Logistics Corporation of South Korea announced it had set up an agreement with the government of Madagascar to lease 1.3 million hectares (thats the measurement used in regards to fields and crops, in this case its about half the size of Belgium) for 99 years to plant corn and palm oil fields. This food and biofuel is to be exclusively repatriated back to Korea (3/4 of the land will be corn). What does this have to do with national security? Agriculture and food is the quintessential necessary industrial to support a stable government, effective military, and workforce population. In the US our food industries are so well developed we hardly consider the effect a war/natural disaster/ect. would have on our food supply. We are hardly affected by the ongoing world food price crisis but from Haiti to Egypt riots and violence are spreading. Korea is attempting to avoid this issue but unlike the US is not blessed with an incredibly productive climate and land system suitable for farming. In leasing this land (which will be ran and managed by Koreans but worked by people from Madagascar) some fear Korea is jump starting a neo-colonialism idea. Several Middle-Eastern countries have done this on a smaller scale in other African countries already. The people of Madagascar would benefit more from effective government assistance and land reform that allowed them to grow their own food (starvation is rampant in the country) then the meager wages they will receive. The lease is giving more than one third of Madagascar's arable land to another nation. This is simply modern Tenet farming and that practice has been abandoned as corrupt and unfair in developed countries. The governments of these poor countries are quick to court these types of deals since like any natural resource boom (or trap, as the Bottom Billion book suggests) is sure to swell the pockets of those in power. Also, in the worst case scenarios, Korea may be forced to station troops in Madagascar to protect its property and vital national interests, something that clearly has the potential to create tensions and all out conflict in the future.
While this idea may seem like a great idea for Korea, the benefits to the other countries involved are so minor it borders (or fits well into) the definition of national exploitation, something that no responsible government should condone.

Article originally posted in the Financial Times, November 22, by Javier Blas

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