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The Price of Lesser-Evilism
  1. Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism
  2. Stefano Liberti
  3. LAND GRABBING: Journeys in the New Colonialism by Stefano Liberti

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Liberti starts in the Horn of Africa, with a visit to Ethiopia. Labour peer and the EU's high Representative Baroness Ashton describes the election as "an important moment for the democratic process"! Perhaps her previous role as Trade Representative, coupled with the fact that Ethiopia has opened its land up to foreign exploitation at bargain basement prices explains her somewhat curious statement? In fact Ethiopia is an authoritarian police state where dissent is ruthlessly cracked down on, secrecy reigns unhindered, where foreign capital is privileged at the expense of the Ethiopian peoples interests.

No doubt after all the land deals GDP will rise as subsistence agriculturalists are deprived of their land, but those alienated from their land will count themselves lucky if they can earn two quid a week toiling for Saudi, Chinese, Dutch or Indian "investors". During his stay Liberti meets other Saudis with potentially less damaging solutions to the Saudis food problems, unfortunately they are not well connected to the patronage networks which criss-cross the Wests favourite fundamentalist kleptocracy. Next stop is Geneva, Switzerland - the parasitical tax haven par excellence - also home to the FAO The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation where Liberti visits a conference whose ostensible subject is food security.

There the business as usual tedium ie. Businesses blowing their own trumpets is relieved by the Four Farmers of the Apocalypse receiving end : namely four Via Campesina activists who bluntly make clear what the land grab means for the worlds small farmers.

Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism

All this is clearly at the expense of indigenous farmers and the targeted countries food supplies. The process is pushed forward by the World Bank, and other ostensibly international institutions which frequently provide guarantees to reduce the risk of the so called investors. One institution that is not entirely in the hands of the "investors" is the UN as Liberti's interview with Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter makes clear while talking about the World Banks voluntary Responsible Investment in Agriculture RAI initiative: "These principles assume that every government only has two options to choose from: to welcome an investor or not to welcome him.

In actual fact, the real question, the real choice is: should we invest in small family farming, distributing land, building infrastructure, supplying storage facilities, or should we bank on large plantations? This question is crucial, but it is avoided, because it would imply agrarian reform and deny the government the advantage, immediate in the short term but potentially counterproductive in the long term, which comes from opening the market to big investors.

Here the account is less satisfactory, he never seems to penetrate through the thickets of sweet sounding care and concern that effortlessly stream from the participants.

Stefano Liberti

Next stop - Chicago, location of the largest exchange in agricultural commodity futures in the world. As far as responsibility for the rising food prices that accompanied falling stock prices during the Credit Crunch they are quite clear: It wasn't us, nor was it the surge of speculative money into the market. Hardly plausible though the argument that the prices reflect real world developments is not without some merit.

The corn grower are as happy as the proverbial pigs in. Not so happy is Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute: "The transfer of corn to ethanol production is creating a problem on a world scale.

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  6. This year in the American Midwest, a quarter of the million tonnes of corn produced was set aside for fuel production as opposed to consumption. This has created an imbalance, given that stocks have diminished. Seven of the past eight years have registered a deficit in cereal production, and reserves worldwide have plummeted to their lowest level in the past thirty-four years. So prices have shot up.

    Over the last two years at the Chicago Board of Trade, corn has more than doubled in price. There is one main reason for this increase: the euphoria for ethanol that has struck producers in the Midwest, not least because of the generous subsidies provided by the federal government. Liberti speaks to indigenous Indians: "Here, until the s, it was all forest, there were trees, there were animals.

    It was another world. They've taken our world away"; large farmers: "there's all this talk about this [work on his plantation] being back-breaking work.

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    Of course its backbreaking, but it's no worse than that of a miner going down into a mine to extract coal. Everybody has got their own economic potential: people earn according to their culture and what service they provide.

    Somebody has to work. Otherwise, if we all laze about in air-conditioned rooms, there'll be no more wheat, no more sugarcane, no nothing. It boils down to this: if we want the TV, the air conditioning, somebody's got to do the dirty work," though it's not to long before this farmer confesses that he would prefer to do without his dirty workers, "I have to take on a certain number to satisfy the agreement I made with the local government. But the land here is flat: all the harvesting and sowing could be done by machines. The Brazilian chapter is the least satisfactory in the book.

    Liberti doesn't really seem to push hard with his questioning, in particular with the large farmer and the patron saint of Bio-Fuels Rodrigues, though the background information on the rise and fall of Brazils Bio-fuel industry was definitely of interest. Group Subscription.

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    LAND GRABBING: Journeys in the New Colonialism by Stefano Liberti

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