Arab countries in land-grab
strategy to secure food supplies
By Mona Alami
BEIRUT - Food price rises as far back as 2008 are believed to be the partial culprits behind the instability plaguing Arab countries and they have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations.
Between 2007 and 2008, rises in food prices caused protest movements in Egypt and Morocco. "This has become an important concern for countries in the Arab region which want to meet the growing demands of their populations," notes Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organization
supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.
Arab countries, which appear to have started losing confidence in normal food supply chains, are now relying on acquisitions of farmland around the world. Globally, land deals by foreign countries were estimated at about 80 million hectares in 2011, according to figures provided by the World Bank.
The 2008 international food price crisis caused alarm among policy-makers and the public in general about the vulnerability of Arab countries to potential future food supply shocks (such as, for example, in the event of closure of the Straits of Hormuz) as well as the perceived continued sharp increase in international food prices in the long term, said Sarwat Hussain, Senior Communications Officer at the World Bank.
Increasing food prices are caused by entrenched trends that include population growth combined with high urbanization rates, depleting freshwater sources, increased demand for raw commodities and biofuels, as well as speculation over farmland.
To face such threats, Arab countries have worked on buying or leasing farm land in foreign countries. "Investment in land often takes the form of long-term leases, as opposed to outright purchases, of land. These leases often range between 25 and 99 years," says Hussain.
Currently, the United Arab Emirates accounts for around 12% of all land deals, followed by Egypt (6%) and Saudi Arabia (4%), according to GRAIN. More ...