They take over the land! The process of land grabbing for food and business security in 2008

They take over the land! The process of land grabbing for food and business security in 2008


The current food and financial crises, combined, unleashed a new global cycle of land grabbing. If this process is not stopped, global land grabbing could mean the end of small-scale agriculture and rural areas for livelihoods and sustenance in many parts of the world.

The current food and financial crises, combined, unleashed a new global cycle of land grabbing. "Food insecure" governments, dependent on imports to feed their people, are rapidly seizing agricultural land around the world on which to grow their own food abroad. Food corporations and private investors, hungry for profit amid the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of income. If this process is not stopped, global land grabbing could mean the end of small-scale agriculture and rural areas for livelihoods and livelihoods in many parts of the world.


Land grabbing is a process that has been going on for centuries. Just think of the "discovery" of America by Columbus and the brutal expulsion of indigenous communities that it unleashed, or the white colonialists who took over the territories occupied by the Maori in New Zealand and by the Zulu in South Africa. It is a very alive violent process today, from China to Peru. Not a single day goes by without the press informing us of the struggles for land - and mining companies like Barrick Gold invade the mountains of South America, or food corporations like Dole or San Miguel scam Filipino peasants to keep their rights to the land. In many countries, private investors are buying large areas to use as natural parks or conservation areas. And everywhere you look, the new agrofuel industry, promoted in response to climate change, seems to be based on driving people off their land.

However, something more peculiar is happening. The two major global crises that erupted in the last 15 months - the world food crisis and the larger financial crisis, of which the food crisis is a part - [1] are engendering a worrying new trend to buy land for production dislocated food. There are two parallel agendas that drive two different types of land grabbers. But although their starting points differ, their steps end up converging.

The first type of speculator is linked to food security. Several countries that depend on the import of food and are concerned about the competitiveness of the markets, even when they have cash to distribute, seek to dislocate their internal production of food, that is, to produce it outside their country by taking over and controlling agricultural land in others. countries. They see this as an innovative long-term strategy to feed their people at good prices and with much greater security than before. Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, India, Korea, Libya and Egypt are on that path. Since March 2008, high-ranking officials from many of those countries have been active in the diplomatic search for fertile lands in places like Uganda, Brazil, Cambodia, Sudan and Pakistan. Given the continuing crisis in Darfur, where the World Food Program is trying to feed 5.6 million refugees, it might seem crazy that foreign governments are buying land in Sudan to produce and export food for their own citizens. The same is true in Cambodia, where 100,000 families (half a million people) currently lack food. [2] And yet that is what is happening today. Convinced that agricultural opportunities are limited and that the market cannot be trusted, “food insecure” governments are buying land everywhere to grow their own food. On the other hand, governments that are being "courted" to make use of their agricultural lands generally welcome such offers of new foreign investment.

The second group of speculators goes for financial gains. Faced with the current financial collapse, all sorts of players in finance or the food industry - investment houses that manage workers' pensions, private equity funds that seek quick profits, hedge funds that flee the now collapsed market Of derivatives, grain traders seeking new growth strategies — are turning to land, for food, for fuel, and as a new source of profit. The land itself is not a typical investment for many of these transnational companies. In fact, it is so easy for land to become embroiled in political conflict that many countries do not even allow it to be owned by foreigners. And the land does not appreciate overnight, like fattened pigs or gold. To be profitable, investors need to increase the productive capacities of the land — and sometimes even get their hands dirty by actually running an agricultural establishment. But the food and financial crises, together, have turned farmland into a new strategic asset. In many places around the world food prices are high and land prices are low. And most of the "solutions" to the food crisis talk of extracting more food from the land we have. So it is clear that it is going to be business to have control of the best land, close to available water supplies, as soon as possible.

What both groups of speculators have in common is that the private sector will be in control. In the pursuit of food security, governments are the ones leading the way through a public policy agenda. In the pursuit of financial gain, it is strictly investors who do their business as usual. But make no mistake. While it is public officials who negotiate land appropriation contracts aimed at providing “food security,” the private sector is explicitly expected to own the land and deliver products. So both lanes of hoarding point in the same direction: foreign private companies gain new forms of control over agricultural land to produce food, not for local communities but for others. Did someone say that colonialism was a thing of the past?

In search of food security

Land grabbing for food security is what people have heard about: newspapers report that Saudi Arabia and China are buying land all over the world, from Somalia to Kazakhstan. But there are many more countries involved. A closer look reveals an impressive list of countries that are at it: China, India, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea in Asia; Egypt and Libya in Africa; and Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. A detailed overview of who seeks land, where, for what purposes and for how much money is provided in the annex.

The situation in these countries varies greatly, of course. China is ostensibly self-sufficient in food. But it has a gigantic population, its agricultural lands are disappearing in the face of industrial advance, its water supplies are under severe pressure, and the Communist Party has a long-term future to think about. With 40% of the world's farmers but only 9% of the world's agricultural land, it should come as no surprise that food security is high on the Chinese government's agenda. And with more than $ 1.8 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, China has plenty of money to invest in its own food security abroad. As many farmer leaders and activists in Southeast Asia know, Beijing has been gradually dislocating some of its food production since well before the global food crisis broke out in 2007. Through China's new geopolitical diplomacy and aggressive government strategy investment abroad, in recent years some 30 agricultural cooperation agreements have been concluded to give Chinese companies access to agricultural land from “friendly countries” in exchange for Chinese technologies, training and infrastructure funds. This occurs not only in Asia but also throughout Africa, through a series of highly diverse and complex projects [3]. From Kazakhstan to Queensland, and from Mozambique to the Philippines, a well-known and systematic process is under way in which Chinese companies lease or buy land, set up large farms to which they send their farmers, scientists and extension workers to work on crop production. . Most of Chinese agriculture abroad (dislocated) is dedicated to the cultivation of rice, beans or soybeans (soybeans) and corn, along with crops for biofuels such as sugar cane, cassava or sorghum. [4 ] Foreign-produced rice invariably means hybrid rice, grown from imported seeds from China, and Chinese farmers and scientists are enthusiastically teaching Africans and others how to grow rice "the Chinese way." However, local rural workers hired to work in Chinese agricultural establishments, in Africa for example, often do not know whether the rice is to feed their people or the Chinese. Given the stealthy nature of a number of land deals, most people assume that rice is for feeding the Chinese and there is a lot of resentment surrounding that. [5]

In essence, China's land grabbing strategy is conservative: the government is financially protecting its investment bets and maximizing its options for supplying its country with food in the long term. In fact, the pressure from China's own loss of agricultural land and water supplies is so great that "China has no choice" but to go abroad, says an expert from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. [6] In fact, food is starting to rank quite high, along with energy and minerals, in China's overall foreign investment strategy. In the first half of 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture drew up a central government policy on food production abroad. The preliminary project is not public yet, [7] but it would surely give an indication of how far, or for how long, the government hopes to finance these business deals. Meanwhile there are many signs that the private sector is expected to play an increasing role. After discussions in July, the policy was put on hold for later, at least for now. "It's too early," explained a ministry official. "We must wait and see how those investments mature." [8]

The Persian Gulf states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - face an entirely different reality. As nations created in the desert, they have a shortage of soil and water with which to grow food or raise livestock. But they have huge amounts of oil and money, which puts them in an excellent position to look to other countries for their food. The current food crisis has hit the Gulf States exceptionally hard. To the extent that they depend on the food they obtain from abroad (especially from Europe) and given that their currencies are parity with the US dollar (except Kuwait, but only since last year), the simultaneous increase in food prices in the world market and the fall of the US dollar implied that they imported a big “extra inflation”. Spending on food imports has inflated in the last five years from $ 8 billion to $ 20 billion. And as their populations are largely made up of low-paid immigrant workers who build cities and tend hospitals, it is absolutely necessary for Gulf political dynasties to provide them with food at reasonable prices. [9] After all, they are sitting on a class difference that is a time bomb, and at the same time they hope to remain prosperous 20 years from now by renting top-notch real estate.

When the food crisis erupted and rice supplies from Asia were cut off, Gulf leaders made quick calculations and reached difficult conclusions. The Saudis decided that given impending water shortages, it would make sense to stop producing wheat, their main food product, by 2016 and instead grow it elsewhere and bring it in, as long as the whole process was firmly under their own control. . In the United Arab Emirates, where 80% of its population are migrant workers, the vast majority consuming rice from Asia, there was panic. Under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council (CCG), they teamed up with Bahrain and the other Gulf countries to formulate a collective strategy for overseas food production. Their idea is to secure trade arrangements, especially in sister Islamic countries, by which they will provide capital and oil contracts in exchange for the guarantee that their corporations will have access to agricultural land and will be able to export the product back to their country. The preferred states for this strategy are, by far, Sudan and Pakistan, followed by several countries in Southeast Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ukraine, Georgia, Brazil ... and the list goes on.

The seriousness of the Gulf States' decision should not be underestimated. Between March and August 2008, some GCC countries, individually or with industrial consortia, leased millions of hectares of agricultural land by contract and harvests are expected to start in 2009. GCC leaders plan to hold important meetings in October 2008 and January 2009, where the design of official policies in this regard will be completed. While the visible components of the Gulf strategy are not controversial in themselves (see Box 1), international organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (known worldwide as fao) ) have considered it necessary to get directly involved in the management of public relations around the issue. "I have no problem with the Arabs making the investment," exclaimed Jacques Diouf, director of the fao, but the land, he says, is a political issue that is a "hot potato." Thus, it keeps several fao officials installed in the Gulf to avoid "unintentional scandals" resulting from the maneuvers of the Gulf States. [10]

Characteristics of the strategy of the Gulf States to seize land

* Governments prepare the ground (organize agreements, elaborate specific bilateral policy arrangements, for example achieve specific exemption from restrictions on food exports or open embassies where contracts will be made) but expect, when they do not mandate, that the private companies assume the projects in the long term.

* Support the Islamic traditions of helping the poor and sharing with those who have less, which translates into a commitment to give part of the food to the communities of the country where it is produced or to the internal market, the banks based on Sharia (Muslim law) are willing to manage funds locally, or projects are smoothed out with technology transfer, jobs and training, and so on.

* They promote a true long-term approach.

* Emphasize a strong rhetorical attachment to win-win results.

* They propose an underlying food-for-energy swap as many projects involve, in exchange, oil and gas supply contracts.

While China and the Gulf states are the biggest players, other countries are also moving aggressively to find agricultural land abroad, with new momentum starting this year. Japan and South Korea, for example, are two rich countries whose governments have chosen to rely on imports rather than seek self-sufficiency to feed their people. They both receive around 60% of their food from abroad. (In the case of Korea, it is more than 90% if rice is excluded). In early 2008, the Korean government announced that it was formulating a national plan to facilitate overseas land acquisitions for Korean food production, designating the private sector as the main actor. Indeed, Korean food companies are already buying land in Mongolia and eastern Russia to produce food that will be exported to their country. The government, meanwhile, is exploring on its own various options in Sudan, Argentina and Southeast Asia. Japan, on the other hand, appears to rely entirely on the private sector to organize food imports (see below) while the government juggles the political framework through free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties, and cooperation pacts for food. developing. It does not have a passive role. Successive Japanese governments have resisted all kinds of pressure to restructure Japanese agriculture, where family farms reign and corporations are not allowed to own the land. Now that Japanese companies are buying land in places like China and Brazil, the pressure may be felt even more.

India also received the long hand that seizes land. Viewed from the boardrooms of companies and government offices in New Delhi or Pune, Indian agriculture is in trouble. The country has big problems with production costs (its greatest concern), due to the decline in soil fertility and long-term water availability, to name just a few. Furthermore, the struggles for access to land have become incredibly complicated, especially due to widespread social resistance to Special Economic Zones. Spurred on by the global food crisis and probably because they don't want to be left out, several Indian agribusiness executives, as well as the Indian government-owned State Trading Corporation (STC), now consider that it is necessary to produce part of the country's food abroad. They are setting aside oilseed, legume, and cotton crops for dislocated production, while calculating that it is cheaper to continue domestic wheat and rice production. [11] The new strategy is underway in Burma, which supplies 1 million of the 4 million tonnes of lentils that India imports each year to supplement its domestic production of 15 million tonnes. Instead of continuing to buy from Burma, Indian traders and manufacturers now want to go in and grow lentils there themselves. It is cheaper and they have more control over the entire process. With government support, Indian companies are securing leases on Burmese farmland to produce the crop for exclusive export to India. The Indian government is providing the Burmese military junta with new special funds to improve its port infrastructure, and is aggressively pushing for a bilateral free trade and investment agreement, tailored to smooth out the pitfalls resulting from the differences in the policies of the two states. But the thing does not end there. Indian managers are also buying Indonesian oil palm plantations and are now flying to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil in search of land to grow lentils and soybeans for export to India. Meanwhile, the nation's central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, is trying to swiftly change national laws in order to grant private Indian companies, as well as the stc, the loans needed to buy land abroad. That possibility was never considered before, that's why there are no rules.

"The Philippines may face a rice shortage, but it may increase stocks of other food products in the UAE, such as bananas, pineapples, wheat, corn, vegetables and other agricultural and poultry products." —Gil Herico, Philippine Government Deputy Middle East Agricultural Affairs [| 2]

All of this may sound like a giant board game, where diplomats and investors jump from country to country seeking new lands that they can claim as their own. But the truth is that African and Asian governments approached for land are quickly accepting the proposals. After all, for them it means new inflows of foreign capital to build rural infrastructure, improve storage and shipping facilities, consolidate farms and industrialize operations. Also, in several of these agreements there are innumerable promised research and improvement programs. “Investment in agriculture” has largely become the call to close ranks from virtually all authorities and experts charged with solving the global food crisis in which this land grabbing boom fits so well - perhaps without express intention . However, it should be clear enough that after the rhetoric of the win-win agreements (win-win they say in commercial jargon), the real objective of these contracts is not agricultural development, much less rural development, but simply the development of agribusinesses. Perhaps only when this is understood do the contradictions underlying this land grabbing boom make sense.

A few months ago, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, publicly announced that he was leasing Khmer rice fields to Qatar and Kuwait so that they could produce their own rice. Although the region in question was not specified, it must be quite large as the government gets almost $ 600 million in loans in return. At the same time, however, the World Food Program has had to start sending food aid worth $ 35 million to alleviate the hunger that plagues rural Cambodia. In the Philippines, where many people had to cut back on their food intake, delegations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have flown into the country time and again since March 2008 to secure land for their own food supply, sparking astonishment. of more than one. As if to nip all controversy in the bud, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo managed to slip the land grab agreement signed with the United Arab Emirates (where many Filipinos work to keep the Philippine economy running) within the new halal industrial policy (set of practices permitted by the Muslim religion) of your administration. Thus, the UAE project appears as an integral component of a government-funded program to build a new domestic industry, rather than what it actually is: a diversion of fertile and likely contested agricultural land to wealthy foreigners. . The various funds sent to Burma in exchange for exclusive use of part of its agricultural land are even more problematic. As Burma is a member of the regional trade bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (asean), and asean itself is now signing free trade agreements with rich economies such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, Social movements in the region are very concerned about this surreptitious support for the repressive military regime in Burma. Land grabbing agreements follow precisely the same pattern. A huge public outcry recently erupted in Uganda when Reuters reported on government talks with Egypt's Ministry of Agriculture, giving details of a lease of more than 840,000 hectares of Ugandan farmland (2.2% of Uganda's total land area! !) to Egyptian companies for the production of wheat and corn destined for Cairo. While government officials denied the deal, the Ugandan parliament called for an emergency session to investigate the matter.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to learn the precise details of a large number of such land acquisitions for food production abroad - how many hectares, for how much money, to do exactly what, under what conditions. Governments undoubtedly fear a political reaction if public opinion knew exactly what is happening.

The new magnet for private investors

While governments likely have agendas for food security, the private sector has a very different one: making money. The food crisis coupled with the financial crisis have made land control a new magnet for private investors. We are not talking about the typical operations of transnational agribusinesses, in which Cargill could invest in a soybean processing plant in Mato Grosso, Brazil. We speak of a new interest in acquiring control of the agricultural lands themselves. There are two main players here: the food industry and, with much greater weight, the financial industry.

“The best hedge for the recession in the next 10-15 years is investment in farmland” - Reza Vishkai, Head of Alternatives at Insight Investment, July 2008 [13]

Within food industry circles, Japanese and Arab trading and processing companies are perhaps the most heavily involved in overseas land acquisitions today. For Japanese companies, this strategy is built within their organic growth (see Table 2). As for companies in the Middle East, they rode the wave in which their governments are going to open doors in the name of the food security paradigm.

Land grab by Japan

Five business conglomerates dominate Japan's food and agribusiness market: Mitsubishi, Itochu, Mitsui, Marubeni and Sumitomo. They are involved in purchasing, processing, shipping, marketing, and selling to the public. They are largely focused on meeting the needs of the Japanese domestic market. But because the market is aging and shrinking, they need to find growth elsewhere.

Japan's food companies are moving abroad (to capture new markets) and upstream (towards production). Marubeni and Mitsui, and to a lesser extent Mitsubishi, aspire to join the ranks of the world's leading grain traders, alongside Arthur Daniels Midland and Bunge. (Cargill, they admit, is too far ahead.) They are buying and building huge facilities and operations in Europe, the United States and Latin America. Marubeni recently purchased eight grain silos and two warehouses in the United States for a value of $ 48 million. This way you can bypass the market and buy your soybeans and corn directly from US producers. Establishing a foothold in China where adm, Bunge and Cargill are not that strong, is now a real strategic priority for those companies.

But it is no longer enough for Japan's large food traders to manage warehouses and containers. Moving to the initial stages of the process is also on the agenda. According to various reports, Japanese companies already own 12 million hectares of agricultural land abroad for the production of food and fodder crops. Some of that land is in China, where in 2006 Asahi, Itochu and Sumitomo began leasing hundreds of hectares of land for the production of organic food for the Chinese and Korean markets. In 2007, Asahi expanded its initial project and created the first Japanese dairy farm in China. A year later, in September 2008, Asahi took advantage of the tragedy of melamine in milk to launch its first liquid milk product with a 50% higher price - disaster capitalism at its best! Mientras tanto, Itochu formó una alianza con cofco, la empresa china número uno en comercialización y procesamiento agrícola, que según se dijo podría implicar adquisiciones de tierras agrícolas.

Las empresas japonesas también están metidas en Brasil. A fines de 2007, Mitsui compró 100 mil hectáreas de tierras brasileñas —el equivalente a 2% de la superficie japonesa cultivada— para la producción de soja a través de su participación en Multigrain sa, el 40% de la cual está ahora en sus manos.

La complicada industria financiera es la que se lleva la mayor tajada. Para mucha gente en el poder, la crisis alimentaria mundial deja al descubierto un problema superlativo: que no importa a dónde se mire, el cambio climático, la destrucción del suelo, la pérdida de los suministros de agua y el estancamiento de los rendimientos de los cultivos dentro del paradigma del monocultivo, están presionando como la gran amenaza a los futuros suministros de alimentos del planeta. Esto se traduce en pronósticos de mercados inactivos, precios elevados y presiones para obtener más de la tierra. Al mismo tiempo, la industria financiera, que tanto apostó a sacar buen dinero de las deudas y perdió, está a la búsqueda de refugios seguros. Todos esos factores hacen de las tierras agrícolas un lindo juguete nuevo con el cual obtener ganancias. Es necesario producir alimentos, los precios seguirán altos, hay tierra barata disponible, compensará —ésa es la fórmula. ¿El resultado? A lo largo de 2008, un ejército de casas de inversión, fondos de capitales privados, fondos de cobertura y otros por el estilo han estado comprando ávidamente tierras agrícolas en todo el mundo —con gran ayuda de organismos como el Banco Mundial, su Corporación Financiera Internacional y el Banco Europeo para la Reconstrucción y el Desarrollo, quienes están allanando el camino para esta corriente de inversión y “persuaden” a los gobiernos a que cambien las leyes de propiedad de la tierra de manera que aquéllos puedan tener éxito (ver Cuadro 3). El efecto es que los precios de la tierra están empezando a subir, presionando aún más para moverse rápidamente.

“El truco aquí es no solamente cosechar cultivos sino cosechar dinero.” —Mikhail Orlov, fundador de Black Earth Farming y ex gerente de capitales privados de Carlyle e Invesco, septiembre de 2008[14]

Este año la fiebre del sector privado por adueñarse de tierras ha sido vertiginosa. El Deutsche Bank y Goldman Sachs, por ejemplo, están asumiendo el control de la industria cárnica china. Mientras todos los ojos estaban puestos nerviosamente en Wall Street a fines de septiembre de 2008, estos dos metían su dinero lejos, en los mayores establecimientos porcinos y avícolas y plantas de procesamiento de carne de China —incluso en derechos a tierras agrícolas. La empresa BlackRock Inc, con sede en Nueva York, una de las mayores administradoras de dinero del mundo, con casi 1.5 billones de dólares en sus libros, acaba de crear un fondo de cobertura agrícola de 200 millones de dólares, 30 millones de los cuales se utilizarán para adquirir tierras en todo el mundo. Morgan Stanley, que casi engrosa la fila de los rescatados por el Departamento de Hacienda de los Estados Unidos, hace poco compró 40 mil hectáreas de tierras agrícolas en Ucrania. Esta cifra empalidece comparada con las 300 mil hectáreas de tierras ucranianas sobre las cuales adquirió derechos Renaissance Capital, una casa de inversiones rusa. De hecho, a lo largo del fértil cinturón que desde Ucrania atraviesa el sur de Rusia, la competencia es grande. Black Earth Farming, un grupo de inversiones sueco, adquirió el control de 331 mil hectáreas de tierras en la región de tierra negra de Rusia. Alpcot-Agro, otra empresa de inversiones sueca, compró los derechos de 128 mil hectáreas allí. Landkom, el grupo de inversiones británico, compró 100 mil hectáreas de tierras en Ucrania y aspira a expandirlas a 350 mil hectáreas para 2011. Todas estas adquisiciones de tierra son para producir cereales, aceite, carne y productos lácteos para el hambriento mercado mundial … es decir, para quienes pueden pagarlo.

La celeridad y el ritmo de esta nueva tendencia de inversión es asombrosa. También lo es la lista de los países escogidos: Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria, Ucrania, Rusia, Georgia, Kazajstán, Uzbekistán, Brasil, Paraguay, incluso Australia. Todos fueron identificados como lugares que ofrecen tierra fértil, relativa disponibilidad de agua y cierto nivel de crecimiento potencial de la productividad agrícola. El horizonte temporal del cual están hablando los inversionistas es, en promedio, de 10 años —con el claro entendimiento de que tienen que hacer productiva la tierra y crear infraestructura comercial, y no descansar ociosamente— y las tasas anuales proyectadas de retorno son del 10 al 40% en Europa o hasta 400% en África. Nuevamente, lo que es nuevo y especial aquí es que esos grupos financieros están adquiriendo derechos reales a la tierra, y muchos de esos movimientos se hicieron apenas en los últimos meses, cuando los mercados financieros comenzaron a derrumbarse. Lo que auguran en realidad para el futuro de la agricultura en esos países es una gran incógnita.

Movimientos en las políticas de tierras

Muchos países están cambiando ahora mismo leyes, políticas y prácticas sobre la propiedad de la tierra para hacer frente a la actual crisis alimentaria y crediticia y la resultante presión sobre la tierra. China está en vías de una importante reforma para facilitar a los campesinos la venta de sus derechos al uso de la tierra, que de lo contrario es de propiedad del Estado en nombre del pueblo. La reforma facilitaría a los agricultores la venta o arrendamiento individual de sus derechos sobre la tierra, y a utilizar títulos de tierra como colaterales de préstamos. Mucha gente predice que esto alentará una enorme reestructuración del medio rural en China, que pasaría de los innumerables pequeños establecimientos agrícolas actuales —que han sido injustamente culpados de las últimas crisis de seguridad alimentaria de China— a una menor cantidad de grandes establecimientos, sobre los cuales las empresas podrán entonces tener derechos más sólidos. El gobierno Kazakh, en su postura de atraer inversionistas extranjeros a las tierras agrícolas, ha implementado políticas de acciones y derechos de uso permanente sobre la tierra. Se especula que muy pronto Ucrania depondría su prohibición de venta de tierra a extranjeros. Sudán, donde la mayoría de la tierra es propiedad del gobierno, está emitiendo arrendamientos de 99 años a un precio muy bajo, si no gratuitamente.

Brasil se está moviendo en la otra dirección. Como la crisis alimentaria, que ha fustigado el frenesí de los agrocombustibles, tiene numerosos inversionistas extranjeros interesados en comprar tierras brasileñas, el Congreso está considerando una Ley para darle transparencia al proceso. La Ley obligaría a los operadores brasileños que compren tierras a declarar la cantidad de participación extranjera en su propiedad y a establecer un registro especial para las compras que involucren capital extranjero. (Desde 1971, las empresas extranjeras pueden comprar tierras en Brasil únicamente a través de socios brasileños o estableciendo residencia en el país. Pero esta ley ha sido muy mal instrumentada.) Si bien algunos inversionistas hacen caso omiso de esto por considerar que está dirigido principalmente a tomar medidas enérgicas contra los especuladores, la Ley tiene fuerte respaldo y puede ser adoptada a fines de 2008. Paraguay está considerando algo similar: en octubre de 2008 el gobierno anunció que comenzaría a aplicar una vieja ley que prohíbe a los extranjeros comprar tierras paraguayas. Pakistán, por el contrario, tiene normas claras que permiten a inversionistas extranjeros ser dueños y trabajar lo que se clasifica como “establecimientos agropecuarios empresariales”, pero las leyes laborales del país no se aplican allí. Estarían estudiando un posible cambio de esa situación.

En un segundo plano, el Banco Mundial y el Banco Europeo para la Investigación y el Desarrollo, entre otros, están asesorando activamente a los gobiernos para que modifiquen las políticas y prácticas de propiedad de la tierra de manera que los inversionistas extranjeros tengan más incentivos para volcar dinero en tierras en el extranjero. Según funcionarios del Banco Mundial, cambiar las leyes de propiedad de la tierra es un objetivo integral del programa de 1200 millones de dólares del Banco para manejar la crisis alimentaria en África.[15] El Banco Europeo para la Investigación y el Desarrollo está moviendo los hilos de la reforma de las políticas sobre la tierra en respuesta a la crisis alimentaria en Europa y Asia Central, con especial atención en los potencialmente grandes exportadores de granos: Rusia, Ucrania, Rumania, Bulgaria y Kazajstán.

¿Qué significa todo esto?

Una cosa que demuestra este auge de adquisición de tierras es que los gobiernos perdieron la fe en el mercado. Esa fe ya había sido sacudida por la crisis alimentaria mundial, cuando los países se vieron súbitamente enfrentados a una situación de falsa escasez, ocasionada por la especulación más que por la oferta y la demanda. Los Estados del Golfo, entre otros especuladores de tierras, son bastante lúcidos acerca de su intención de (a) asegurar el abastecimiento de alimentos a través de la propiedad directa o del control de tierras agrícolas extranjeras, y (b) excluir lo más posible a comercializadores y otros intermediarios para reducir en un 20-25% el gasto de la importación de alimentos. En efecto, se han visto forzados a ir a lugares como Islamabad y Bangkok y pedirle a los gobiernos allí que levanten su prohibición de exportación de arroz de manera especial para sus establecimientos agrícolas. Queda de manifiesto el desprecio subyacente que todo esto demuestra por los mercados abiertos y el comercio libre, tan laureados por los asesores occidentales en las últimas cuatro décadas.

Otra cuestión fundamental es que los trabajadores, los agricultores y las comunidades locales inevitablemente perderán acceso a la tierra para la producción local de alimentos. Sencillamente se está entregando la base misma sobre la cual construir la soberanía alimentaria. Los gobiernos, los inversionistas y los organismos de desarrollo que participan en esos proyectos argumentarán que se crearán puestos de trabajo y algo de alimentos quedará. Pero eso no reemplaza la tierra y la posibilidad de trabajar y vivir de ella. De hecho, lo que debería ser obvio es que el problema real con la apropiación actual de la tierra no es simplemente el asunto de darle a extranjeros el control de tierras agrícolas nacionales. Es la reestructuración. Esas tierras serán transformadas de pequeñas propiedades o bosques en grandes fincas industriales conectadas a grandes mercados lejanos. Los agricultores no volverán a ser más agricultores reales, haya o no trabajo. Ésta será probablemente la mayor consecuencia.

Un tercer mensaje que es importante extraer surge del hecho de que la inversión en agricultura es buena y de que el llamado auge entre países del Sur que hay detrás de esos negocios agrícolas en el exterior, podría ser bueno. Necesitamos invertir más en agricultura. Construir solidaridad entre los países del Sur y crear una economía cooperativa, fuera del alcance del imperialismo (occidental o del Sur), puede ser una buena forma de hacerlo. Pero ¿qué agricultura? ¿Y qué tipo de economías? ¿Quién controlará esas inversiones y quién se beneficiará de ellas? El riesgo de que no solamente los alimentos sino también las ganancias generadas a partir de esas operaciones agrícolas en el exterior se desvíen a otros países, a otros consumidores que pueden pagarlas, o simplemente a élites foráneas, es bastante real. Esas operaciones no harán mella necesariamente en la crisis alimentaria. Tampoco traerán necesariamente el “desarrollo” a las comunidades locales. Y no debemos olvidar que muchas de esas inversiones agrícolas en el extranjero serán facilitadas a través de tratados bilaterales de inversión y acuerdos de libre comercio más amplios, lo que hará más difícil resolver futuros problemas. Si bien la ideología en la cual los Estados del Golfo Pérsico envuelven sus proyectos es en cierta medida más amigable con la gente que la ideología del capitalismo chino —y esas inversiones están imbuidas en ideología y diseño geopolítico—, es tan sólo una fachada. Después de todo, a través de esos acuerdos, los Estados del Golfo están apoyando el régimen de Jartum, así como India está apoyando la dictadura militar de Birmania. Pekín se lleva su propia fuerza de trabajo y sus tecnologías cuando hace agricultura dislocada en el exterior, desplazando la biodiversidad nativa y eludiendo los sindicatos locales. Así que a pesar de la necesidad de inversiones y de una política entre países del Sur, quien se beneficie realmente es un asunto muy preocupante y sin respuesta.

¿Y qué hay de la reforma agraria? Es difícil imaginar que la concesión de tierras agrícolas a otros países o a inversionistas privados para producir alimentos que serán enviados a otra gente, no nos lleve a asestarle duros golpes a las luchas de tantos movimientos que reclaman una reforma agraria genuina y el respeto de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas. Tanto más, ya que muchos de los países escogidos son importadores netos de alimentos, con conflictos muy serios en torno a la tierra. En Pakistán, los movimientos de agricultores ya están dando la alarma sobre 25 mil aldeas que serán desplazadas si se acepta la propuesta de Qatar de producir en la provincia de Punjab parte de su producción de alimentos.[16] En Egipto, pequeños agricultores del distrito de Qena han estado luchando con uñas y dientes para recuperar 1600 hectáreas que recientemente se concedieron a Kobebussan, un conglomerado japonés de agronegocios, para producir alimentos con destino a Japón.[17] En Indonesia, los activistas especulan que la planeada finca arrocera saudita en Merauke, donde se entregarán 1.6 millones de hectáreas a un consorcio de 15 empresas para producir arroz para exportación a Riyadh, eludirá el derecho nacional de los habitantes de la provincia de Papúa a vetar el proyecto.[18] Dada la tenacidad del Banco Mundial y otros por facilitar el control de las tierras a los ávidos inversionistas extranjeros como solución retorcida a la crisis alimentaria, todo esto podría culminar en un conflicto explosivo.

Otro aspecto importante que no puede ignorarse es que esos acuerdos afianzan más la agricultura orientada a la exportación, lo cual sencillamente no es apropiado en la mayoría de los países escogidos. La enorme presión de las últimas décadas por producir alimentos destinados a mercados externos en vez de los mercados internos, es lo que hizo que el impacto de la crisis alimentaria 2007-2008 fuera tan difícil para tanta gente, especialmente en Asia y África. No todos pueden comprar alimentos en el mercado mundial —sobre todo cuando los salarios e ingresos reales de la mayoría de la gente no han aumentado en los últimos años. En la medida que la mayoría de esas tierras arrebatadas está destinada a instalar grandes fincas empresariales —sea en Laos, Pakistán o Nigeria— para producir alimentos para exportación, el problema se agrava. Es verdad que algunos acuerdos reservan parte de los alimentos para las comunidades locales en la región o para el mercado interno. Algunos incluyen hasta agendas sociales como la construcción de hospitales o escuelas. Pero aun así promueven un modelo industrial de agricultura que genera pobreza y destrucción ambiental, exacerba la pérdida de biodiversidad, la contaminación por agroquímicos y debido a organismos modificados genéticamente. Una amplia gama de estadísticas, en caso de que no bastara con la simple observación, atestigua la creciente brecha entre ricos y pobres, los bien alimentados y los hambrientos, consecuencia de este proceso.

Por último, la pregunta más obvia de todas: ¿qué ocurre en el largo plazo cuando concedes el control de las tierras agrícolas de tu país a naciones e inversionistas extranjeros?

GRAIN, octubre de 2008


El Anexo a este documento es un cuadro con más de 100 casos de apropiación de tierras para la producción de alimentos en el exterior, como se describió en este informe. Está disponible:

Land grab notebook (Cuaderno de apropiaciones de tierra):

GRAIN publica un Google Notebook (Cuaderno de Google) con notas de prensa recogidas durante la investigación para este documento, como apoyo a quienes tengan interés en profundizar en el tema. El cuaderno está disponible únicamente en línea y las notas de prensa no están en orden pero son fácilmente ubicables. Hacemos esto porque no siempre es fácil buscar este tema en Internet, si uno quiere tener un panorama amplio. Quien lo desee puede agregar nuevas notas al cuaderno, para aportar a esta fuente colectiva. GRAIN no mantendrá ni será responsable por la misma. La mayor parte de los artículos están actualmente en inglés. Land grab notebook (Cuaderno de apropiaciones de tierra):

[1] Ver GRAIN, “El negocio de matar de hambre”, A contrapelo, Barcelona, abril de 2008,

[2] “World No-Food Day: cedac said that around 100,000 families in Cambodia lack sufficient food”, The Mirror, Phnom Penh, 18 de octubre de 2008. (en inglés).

[3] Recientemente, el gobierno chino anunció que comprometería 5 mil millones de dólares para que empresas chinas invirtieran en agricultura africana en los próximos 50 años a través del nuevo Fondo de Desarrollo China-África (cadf, por sus siglas en inglés). El cadf es un fondo de capitales privados cuyo accionista es el Banco de Desarrollo de China. Ver T. Michael Johnny, “China earmarks us$5 billion for food production on continent”, The News, Monrovia, 23 de abril de 2008. (en inglés).

[4] China es la cuna de la soja y el mayor consumidor mundial, pero actualmente el país importa el 60% de sus necesidades. En cuanto al maíz, China pronto será un importador neto. Ambos cultivos son esenciales para las crecientes industrias cárnica y láctea chinas.

[5] Ver “Oryza hybrida”, en el blog de GRAIN sobre el arroz híbrido, en gran parte responsable del avance del arroz híbrido chino en tierras extranjeras: (en inglés). En mayo de 2008, en la televisión francesa se realizó una investigación periodística para tfi acerca de cómo incide esto en Camerún: (video y textos solamente en francés).

[6] Citado en Li Ping, “Hopes and strains in China’s overseas farming plan”, Economic Observer, Pekín, 3 de julio de 2008. (en inglés).

[7] El informe más detallado lo brinda Li Ping, ibídem.

[8] “Chinese debate pros and cons of overseas farming investments”, Guardian, 11 de mayo de 2008. (en inglés).

[9] En 2007, los extranjeros representaron 63% de la población de los Estados del Golfo vistos como un todo. En los Emiratos Árabes Unidos representan más de 82%. Se espera que estas cifras crezcan mucho más en los años venideros conforme muchos más trabajadores migrantes ingresan, huyendo de alguna penuria económica o del desempleo en casa.

[10] Margaret Coker, “un food chief warns on buying farms”, Wall Street Journal, 10 de septiembre de 2008. (en inglés).

[11] India consume anualmente 11 millones de toneladas de aceite comestible e importa la mitad de su consumo. Las importaciones son principalmente de aceite de palma proveniente de Indonesia y Malasia, más aceite de soja de Brasil, Paraguay y Uruguay. En cuanto a las legumbres, India consume anualmente entre 18 y 19 millones de toneladas de lentejas e importa un cuarto de ellas.

[12] Cleofe Maceda, “uae signs MoU with Philippines to ensure food supply”, Gulf News, 22 de Julio de 2008. (en inglés)

[13] Citado en AgCapita Newsletter, AgCapita Partners, Calgary, 25 de julio de 2008. (en inglés).

[14] Citado en Catherine Belton, “Agriculture: The battle to bring more land into production”, Financial Times, Londres, 30 de septiembre de 2008.

[15] Herbert Boh, coordinador de Comunicaciones, Banco Mundial, entrevistado por Howard Lesser, Voice of America, el 14 de octubre de 2008. La cfi del Banco se jacta con orgullo de que el año pasado cambió las leyes de propiedad de la tierra de Sierra Leona para que los extranjeros pudieran obtener el control. Ver el informe del Servicio de Asesoría en Inversión Extranjera sobre el África subsahariana en (en inglés).

[16] “Pakistan eyeing corporate farming amid rising wheat crisis”, Kuwait News Agency, 11 de octubre de 2008. (en inglés).

[17] Land Centre for Human Rights, “Once more the farmers of the village of El-Mrashda are standing in the face of the blowing wind.… Who will protect their rights”, Cairo, 15 de octubre de 2008. (en inglés).

[18] “Merauke mega-project raises food fears”, Down to Earth, núm. 78, Londres, agosto de 2008. (en inglés).

Video: Ethiopias land rush: Feed the world but not themselves. Guardian Investigations (June 2021).