May 23, 2009

Land deals

The Economist seems wary of land deals, i.e. the purchase or lease of millions of acres in poor countries to grow staple crops or biofuels to ship home by more developed countries. It was indeed one of them, by the South Koreans, that caused the overthrow of the government in Madagascar. Most people seem against it, calling them “land grabs”, “neocolonialist” rip-offs, different from 19th-century colonialism only because they involve different land-grabbers and enrich different local elites.

I cannot help but wonder why no parralel is done with the oil industry. Is it not advocated that oil rich countries with no expertise should let experienced foreign companies run their business, with proper contracts? Isn’t is what is advocated to Venezuela or Nigeria, for example? Why would the same principle not be applied to agricultural ressources?

And why would this be more colonialist than Paul Romer’s new development strategy, by which developing countries could invite experienced governments such as Canada or Finland to “own” and manage some of their cities. Over time, as with Hong Kong, the new cities are turned over to the host country.

Land deals, as diamonds, foreign aid or oil, can be a blessing as much as a curse.

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