Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research joins global farmland grab

Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research joins global farmland grab


The Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimated that between 15 and 20 million hectares had recently been rented, bought or in negotiation to produce food abroad, almost all in Africa and Asia. This year, land grabbing has become a feature of almost all official discussions related to food security policies at the highest level, be it at the meetings of the G8 leaders, in the African Union or in the General Assembly of Nations. United.

It was probably only a matter of time before the international agricultural research apparatus was caught up in the current land frenzy that various governments and corporate investors are pushing to secure food supplies from abroad. After all, a lot of money is flowing in these days for "food security" - a series of new projects that aim to acquire and develop huge areas of land for dislocated crop production. GRAIN identified more than 100 of these deals, many of which were triggered by the financial and food crises of late last year. (one)

Six months later, the Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) calculated that recently, between 15 and 20 million hectares had in fact been rented, bought or were subject to negotiation processes to produce food abroad. , almost all in Africa and Asia. (2) The World Bank launched an important study on the matter (which the bank itself supports as it exacerbates the increase in privatization and agribusiness in the South) and which will be completed by the end of this year. (3) This year, land grabbing has become a feature of almost all official discussions related to food security policies at the highest level, be it at the G8 leaders' meetings, in the African Union or in the Assembly. United Nations General.

Tens of billions of dollars have been mobilized so far (almost all in documents), for these land deals to culminate in productive new plantations. (4) It is new money that dances in a world plagued with increasing hunger. There is no doubt then that the research institutes that develop new varieties of seeds, agricultural machinery or irrigation technologies by humanitarian mandate want to play part of the action as well. But can they afford? IFPRI, one of 16 research units founded by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) at the World Bank, has expressed concerns that these land grab deals could be counterproductive and seeks to promote a set of principles so that achieve a "win-win" scheme. But before the ink of the veiled call for caution by IFPRI, one of its sister entities, the International Rice Research Institute, known by its name and its acronym in English, could dry [International Rice Research Institute-IRRI ], he was already dipping his feet in the waters of the land grabs.

IRRI gets involved

An internal document recently posted on IRRI's website reveals that the institute has been advising Saudi Arabia in the context of its strategy to acquire farmland in other countries to meet its own food production. The information is revealed in notes from a March 2009 meeting in Riyadh between Dr. Robert Ziegler, IRRI Director General, and officials from the government and the private sector of Saudi Arabia. IRRI, based in the Philippines. It is often considered the most important rice research institute in the world. Saudi Arabia is the third largest importer of rice and many of its cultivation plans abroad revolve around this staple grain. For the Saudis, the stakes are high. The projection is that the bill for its food imports will rise to 15 billion dollars this year, 25% more than in 2008. (5)

Notes taken by IRRI during these discussions, which were initially posted on its website, reveal that IRRI has been meeting and advising the government of Saudi Arabia and Saudi companies regarding investments in rice production. They also indicate that both sides have been working on a proposal to formalize IRRI's role in the development and implementation of rice cultivation projects, from the Saudi kingdom, abroad.

On March 7, 2009, Zeigler and two other IRRI representatives met with Dr. Ahmed Al-Sadhan, the general administrator of the national office for industrial strategies within the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as well as representatives of some of the Major companies involved in Saudi Arabia's coordinated efforts to secure food production abroad included the Tabuk Agricultural Development Company (TADCO). This was a follow-up meeting to the previous visit by a Saudi delegation of government officials and businessmen to IRRI headquarters in the Philippines. During the trip to Saudi Arabia, the IRRI delegation also visited the Islamic Development Bank and two companies involved in planning dislocated rice productions: Olayan Financing Company and Foras International. The notes make clear that, during the visit to Saudi Arabia, IRRI advised official officials on investments abroad to produce rice.

“Bob [Ziegler's] advice was to invest in countries that are not very populated, with good resources and a good climate for rice production. Potential countries mentioned during the meeting included Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. Bob also added Tanzania, Mozambique, Mali and southern Brazil ”, read the notes of the meeting held in the offices of Dr. Ahmed M. Al-Sadhan.

However, IRRI denies having provided advice to any government on acquiring land abroad to produce food. "IRRI is not involved in any project to acquire land to produce rice - this is not part of IRRI's mission," says the institution in a very cautious phrasing response to GRAIN's request for clarification. .

However, during this same meeting in Riyadh, both sides discussed IRRI's formal role within the Saudi government's food security plan, leading to the proposal that IRRI would provide “guidelines” for the development of a “framework for work on what needs to be achieved in terms of research, requirements, chosen countries and necessary support, etc. ”.

Based on this discussion, the meeting proposed that IRRI present a 5-year plan by the end of March. This plan should highlight "areas of research that will need additional support at IRRI and that are relevant to the Saudi initiative abroad, the approximate budget, and some investment guidelines for rice production abroad," writes IRRI. in your notes. There were also some discussions between the two sides about the role to be assumed by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), another CGIAR center, based in Cotonou.

In its letter to GRAIN, IRRI acknowledges that it has submitted “concept notes for research proposals” to Saudi Arabia but that “no agreement has been reached with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and at present there are no IRRI projects to finance it. ”.

The Foras model

Much of Ziegler's visit to Saudi Arabia was spent in meetings with representatives of agribusinesses charged with implementing the Saudi government's strategy of dislocation of food production. One of the companies IRRI interviewed was TADCO, which is actively involved in establishing farms abroad. (6) Among other projects, TADCO is part of a Saudi consortium that is investing 40 million dollars in the acquisition of more than 200 thousand hectares of farmland abroad to produce rice and other food crops.

Another firm that IRRI met with was the investment company Foras International, with which IRRI had already met on at least one other occasion in the Philippines. According to IRRI's own account of the meeting, Foras informed the research center of its acquisition of 500,000 hectares of farmland in Senegal and 200,000 hectares of fertile land in Mali for rice production. IRRI representatives proceeded to advise Foras on his project and discuss IRRI's involvement. The representatives of Foras and the governments involved have yet to publicly acknowledge such land transfer, which could obviously have political repercussions in the affected countries.

IRRI confirmed to GRAIN that both sides signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2008 that "formalizes an overall relationship between IRRI and Foras and states that both organizations will seek mutually beneficial opportunities to collaborate on investigations."

Foras was recently created as a subsidiary of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, receiving funding from the Islamic Development Bank, the Saudi government and private investors. Its mandate is to develop investments in Islamic countries and it is playing a particularly active role in supporting the Gulf countries in their goals of producing food abroad. Recently, Reuters reported that Foras manages a project, called 7 × 7, which over a period of 7 years tries to produce 7 million tons of rice on 700 thousand hectares of land, mainly in Senegal and Mali. Mauritania, Uganda, Sudan and Niger are spoken of as other potential targets. (7) In 2008, Foras started a pilot project on a 2,000-hectare rice farm in Mauritania, which is overseen by a team of consultants from Kasetsart University in Thailand.

In its notes from these discussions with the Islamic Development Bank, IRRI writes that the "Foras model" provides "good opportunities" to collaborate with IRRI.

It would seem that this so-called “Foras model” involves the massive acquisition of rice fields in African countries, the rehabilitation of existing irrigation systems and large-scale mechanized farming, in order to export mainly to the Gulf countries. In the Reuters report of August 3, 2009, Fora officials said they were only "looking" for land in three or four countries and would not say what kind of tenure they would acquire.

However, the notes from IRRI's meeting with Foras indicate that Foras has acquired hundreds of thousands of hectares of land.

"The projects have already acquired 200,000 hectares in Mali, 500,000 in Senegal and 10,000 acres in Sudan, all of which will be channeled to rice production," the notes say.

In a response to GRAIN, Foras confirmed that he has already acquired land on the banks of the main rivers of Mali and Senegal for his rice project.

IRRI notes also reveal that the institute advised Foras officials on the varieties of rice to use and where to invest in rice production. Also discussed during the meeting was “the need for strong communication and media coverage to ensure a clear understanding of the project's mission”, “the need to establish a research unit that evaluates and selects varieties adapted to these conditions using germplasm developed by IRRI and WARDA ", to ensure the success of this great undertaking".

However, IRRI says that it has not received any funding from Foras and that it only provides Foras with general information that it would provide to anyone. "We make general suggestions about suitable varieties or best management practices, or socio-economic and environmental aspects to consider," reads the response to GRAIN's request for clarification.

Drive out peasants

Although not surprising, IRRI's involvement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's controversial plan to dislocate its food production is highly disturbing, especially in light of IRRI's privileged role in helping define agricultural policy research and development agendas in many of the countries targeted by Saudi Arabia's search for farmland. It also points to another conflict of interest for an institution that is already mired in controversy due to its close ties to multinational seed companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta. And it is very embarrassing for the CGIAR, which could appear to be playing "good cop and bad cop" with the current trend of land grabbing which, after all, might seem like fresh and nothing less funding that is mobilized in response to the crisis. global food.

The Asian Peasant Coalition has already reacted angrily to the news of IRRi's involvement with the Saudi initiative, accusing the Institute of displacing rice farmers as these projects steal their land. (8) In Africa, the Conféderation Nationale des Organization Paysannnes (confederation of peasant organizations) in Mali, which is part of the international peasant movement Via Campesina, is embroiled in its own uphill fight against a similar project whereby a sovereign fund of Libyan capital is taking 100,000 hectares to grow rice in the irrigation system known as Office du Niger. (9) At the regional level, the network of West African peasant and agricultural producer organizations (Reseau des Organizations Paysannes et des Producteurs Agricoles de'l Afrique de'l Ouest-ROPPA) has spoken out vehemently against foreign land grabbing in the region . (10) It is time that governments, corporations and other agencies involved in such agreements, began to listen.

GRAIN, September 2009

To deepen

The full notes of IRRI's visit to Saudi Arabia were removed from the IRRI website following GRAIN's request for more information on 27 August 2009:… ) (Available now - 09/09/2009)

Since we accessed them publicly, they are currently available at (in English):…)

IRRI's responses to our questions on the matter (in Spanish):…)

A video of the Foras rice project in Mauritania, evaluated by a team from Kasetsart University, is available at

GRAIN maintains a resource page on land grabbing, with links to documents, websites, various initiatives, and other materials:

At you can find daily news about the trend of land grabbing and people's resistance. The site provides a weekly email service that you can subscribe to.


1.GRAIN, “They own the land! The process of land grabbing for food and business security in 2008 ”, Analysis Papers, October 2008: Available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Bahasa Indonesian.

2. Joachim von Braun and Ruth Suseela Meinzen-Dick, “« Land grabbing »by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities”, IFPRI Policy Brief 13, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC, April 2009: http: / /…)

3. See Klaus Deininger, “Land grabbing: International Community Responses”, presentation given at the expert meeting of the Development Police Review Network [DPRN, or Development Policy Review Network] July 8, 2009 in Utrecht, http: //…), or the electronic publication of a previous World Bank seminar: “Large Scale Investments in Land: Déjà vu or New Development Opportunity?", Washington DC, March 2, 2009: mms : //

4. In April 2009 the IFPRI placed the amount between 20 thousand and 30 thousand million dollars. However, many of the deals were left out of the IFPRI study and others have begun since its publication. Also absent from the study are many of the private sector funds that went to farmland investments. Although we cannot provide an accurate figure, GRAIN estimates that the amount is now close to $ 100 billion.

5. Orient Planet, “Saudi Arabia’s Food and Agro Imports to Grow some 25 per cent During Q4 of 2009”, press release, August 30, 2009.…)

6. For more information on TADCO you can consult:

7. Souhail Karam, “Saudi-based Partners launch Africa Rice Farming Plan”, Reuters, August 3, 2009: (French translation also available)

8. View the APC website:

9. Lamine Coulibaly et Boaventura Monjane, “La Libye s’accapare des terres rizicoles maliennes”, Via Campesina, August 18, 2009:…). [Spanish and English translations will be available soon,]

10. PANA, "Le ROPPA opposée à la vente massive des terres agricoles en Afrique", 1st June 2009:

Video: Bill Gates: The Biggest Owner of Farmland in The US. NewsMo (May 2021).