The New Colonialism: Foreign Investors Snap Up African Farmland

global land grab

 

One trend that has been below the radar of discussion on the media nowadays in land grab, mostly made by multinational, privately-owned corporations. They do not simply buy a small plot of land; they do it in millions of hectares, oftentimes buying up nearly the entire arable land of a nation, especially those of Third World countries in Asia and Africa.

For Africa, this phenomenon is particularly gaining some hard truth for much of the populace: despite under the promise of ‘enriching the population, triggering high economic growth’, governments are oftentimes powerless in the face of cash-flooded foreign investors. Some even begin to signal that ‘a new Scramble-for-Africa’ has begun, this time no longer in colonies, but in terms of massive land-leasing deals towards corporate behemoths, frequently below the supposed prices they pay.

Read the full article in Der Spiegel to find out more.

 

Excerpt:

 

The most spectacular deals are not being made by private investors, however, but by governments and the funds and conglomerates they promote:

  • The Sudanese government has leased 1.5 million hectares of prime farmland to the Gulf States, Egypt and South Korea for 99 years. Paradoxically, Sudan is also the world’s largest recipient of foreign aid, with 5.6 million of its citizens dependent on food deliveries.
  • Kuwait has leased 130,000 hectares of rice fields in Cambodia.
  • Egypt plans to grow wheat and corn on 840,000 hectares in Uganda.
  • The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has offered to lease 10 million hectares to the South Africans.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest and most aggressive buyers of land. This spring, the king attended a ceremony where he took delivery of the first export rice harvest, produced exclusively for the kingdom in hunger-stricken Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia spends $800 million a year promoting foreign companies that cultivate “strategic field crops” like rice, wheat, barley and corn, which it then imports. Ironically, the country was the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter in the 1990s. But water is scarce and the desert nation aims to preserve its reserves. Exporting food also means exporting water.

Study case: inside the minds of Mexican drug cartels

 

Any business-school student should carefully watch this mind-blowing video.

Whatever the mass media have shaped our minds regarding the ongoing drug war in Mexico, which has claimed in between 60,000 and 100,000 lives since the army deployment began on 2006, our perception regarding the drug cartels – the so-called ‘bad guys’ as our minds are molded to believe – is utterly limited.

Rodrigo Canales, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, wants to debunk our limited mindsets in perceiving these cartels. At least there are three ‘business strategies’ everyone is going to learn from this utterly deadly genius TED talk:

1. A drug cartel can instill a high sense of control by pursuing a brand of fear. (take for instance Los Zetas, a drug cartel composed of former paratroopers previously recruited, and later dismissed, by Gulf Cartel, another influential Mexican drug-trading organization )

2. Or, in a softer approach, a drug cartel, in the absence of government’s effectual policies, endorses social enterprise and civic engagement. (Knights’ Templar, the successor of previous La Familia Michoacana, is an epitome for this case. They often label themselves as ‘protectors of the oppressed’, as shown by how they kill people, particularly petty criminals, perceived as threats to the social stability of the societies they control)

3. Or, in a more sophisticated manner, a drug cartel functions as normally as a multinational corporation does. (Sinaloa Federation is a role model fit for this method. They have developed their own tunnels, operated their own submarines, and even engaged public-relations firms to give a positive trajectory of how local societies perceive of their organization)

At the same time, Canales also challenges us to readjust our mindsets regarding our perception, and how this can help the policymakers in pursuing a radically brand-new problem-solving approach to solve this age-old trouble, one that has taken over tens of thousands of lives in the Central America’s largest country.

 

Singaporean haze: now you still see me

now you cant see me

 

The relationship between either Singapore or Malaysia and Indonesia has never been obviously easy. Our relationship with the two nations have been put into countless tests: some housemaids indiscriminately ill-treated, numerous young people trafficked and exploited inhumanely either in industrial sectors or prostitution, Malaysia claiming some waters and portions of our cultures we ourselves, to be honest, rarely appreciate, Singapore rumored to have illegally imported sands from Riau archipelago for its reclamation projects, and at its top list today, the en masse haze pollution brought about as a consequence of mushrooming ‘slash-and-burn’ tactics employed in numerous palm oil plantations across Sumatra and Borneo.

The haze has seemingly been on its satanic cycle, reiterating what the age-old wisdom says, ‘history repeats itself’. Indonesia itself has, as cynically described, ‘exported’ huge amounts of haze to Malaysia and Singapore, firstly in 1997, secondly in 2006, thirdly in 2009, and the latest in 2013. Singapore’s air pollution indicator, or PSI, even climaxed at 400, the level beyond which may trigger a nearly post-apocalyptic phantasm. Virtually all the populace were hardly able to view the city-state’s skyline, as though thoroughly consumed by smog.

Here comes the question: who is to blame for such rehearsed occurrence? The pin-pointing diplomatic war has just commenced. Indonesian government accused Singaporean and Malaysian palm-oil giants of failing to abide by ‘zero-burn’ policies; both authorities, in response, criticized our venal, red-tape-takes-all-the-baksheesh administration which had let loose the corporations in exploiting the nature. President SBY himself, meanwhile, had offered an official apology, but as a consequence, became subject of ridicule for bulk of the parliament. Indonesia, instead of cooperating with Singaporean and Malaysian emergency teams, opted to seek assistance from Russian military planes to extinguish the raging hot spots. Online, most Singaporeans incessantly castigated to both Singaporean and Indonesian governments for failing to sanction the most possible penalty for the companies involved.

Pin-pointing, ironically, never makes us look subtle. We instead only haul over the coals to other sides without utter contemplation at our own. And that is, in my personal opinion, what currently happens between our wiggle-waggle relation. Indonesia aims for a greener economy, but the implementation of zero-burn policies merely remains valid on paper. The government targets 1-billion-tree campaign, but our forests prevail on fire beyond control. Those plantation giants are, miserably, Janus-faced; on one side, they have planted hundred millions of trees and mangroves. On the other, they blindly pollute the environment, and destroy more woods. Either Indonesian or Singaporean government promises strict punishment for plantation giants. In the end, only petty farmers, or small or middle plantation owners, taste the bitter justice, while corporations with influential political ties remain safe.

The hail may have come to Singapore today, but in the future, with little measures taken until today, everything is beyond predilection if such things, probably on larger scale, may possibly take place again.

 

Read the report about Singapore’s downpour in Global Voices Online.

For those with the foggiest ideas, refer to the full chronology in Wikipedia.

 

Altruists’ paradox

 

Much debate exists as to whether true altruism is possible. Arguably, the act of sharing, helping or sacrificing may be primarily motivated by the gratification it returns. This seems to assume a different understanding of ‘benefits’, though, from the traditionally assumed meanings (which are external – recognition from others, reciprocation etc. – rather than internal), making this a problematic argument.’

Perhaps this is what Wikipedia explains when it comes to arguing altruism. No, I mean, what the Wikipedia users try to imply. But, somehow, after reconsidering it for some time, I found out that the notion behind the paragraph may be partially justified. My main concern may be like this: more and more people have favors in bequeathing, or tithing as the Christians prefer, some bits of their money to the societies in most urgent need. But why a bulk of the world population remains poor? Because answering this arduous question may link you to myriad possible answers (mismanagement of donated funds, increasing living standards, or, to a worse extent, graft, and you are free to conject the next), I would like to pick up one of my own, other than those above: charity is not disparate with a drug. I’m not sure how much percentage would the whole world totally agree with, but as of my viewpoint, the more charity clubs there are, the more people, particularly those ‘in really needy help’, will get more addicted to their generosity. In long term, generosity leads to some kind of new superiority, a new genus of human pomposity in which people feel themselves superior as they can show off giving as much as possible, enmasking themselves with seraphic faces.

You may presume the previous paragraph that I am like someone else who believes in stuff like NWO, Illuminati, or whatsoever applesauces. But I have to remind you, as though fairy tales, these sorts of conspiracy theories are full of fiddlesticks. I just want to state some reasons of why true altruism may be a mere phantasm:

Charity clubs are, much or less, like executive clubs.

You join a charity club in your city, say, Tigers International, (I may get sued for writing down Lions International, instead), because one of the members is a parliamentarian who has acquaintances ranging from big-bellied cops, happy-talk army generals, and perennially happy-faced politicians coming from a major political party. Even you (perhaps) won’t if this guy has never been ruling the roost. Oh, yeah, particularly in a mobocratic nation, you know that your business is safe, because a lion has backed you up behind.

You know doing good makes you richer, and that’s why you do it.

I remembered what one of the mathematic teachers (a very devout Catholic) in my junior-high-school years saying like this, “When you tith, you get paid by Lord 70 times of what you have done.” I know benevolence is the best investment (ranked first after gold and flim-flam MLM), but is the main aim of doing good either because it leads you to heaven, or it leads you to a seventh heaven of limitless wealth? Is there nothing else can be made when what you solely focus in mind in doing good is simply ‘doing good makes you respected and silk-stocked’?

Doing good is simply about handing out basic needs to the poor.  

False. It is a howler to think that all about doing good is simply distributing goods to the needy. There’s more to rethink about such stuff, particularly when it comes to charity clubs. As a juvenile, and as a person who has experienced the ups-and-downs of leading a youth empowerment organization (and partially, a charity club as well), I am left to wonder whether the job of ‘handing out basic needs to the poor’ is nothing else but the one that should be left only to the youth nowadays. This actually functions only as a catalyst to be cognized with how to get further involved in improving societies. And what’s more? Why don’t we give them chances to sustain themselves by means of microfinance, or skills training sessions?

You are an oligarch, and everybody believes you are a Seraph.

I want you to, once again, portray yourself as, say, a country’s richest person. Let’s say your wealth amounts to 100 billion US$ (on velvet, the country you’re in is identified as an emerging market, as more states have a high stake in your natural resources) all of a sudden, because you have a monopoly in industries without which, even breathing won’t guarantee that people will still live next hour. Say, in coal, in cigarette, in food, in drinks, in agriculture, in mining, in oil & gas, in electricity, in real estate, and in telecommunication. Thanks to the ousted dictator who was your life-long friend (and he even knows who your secret lover abroad, and your out-of-wedlock children are), you are able to accummulate what any lousy motivators dub as ‘unlimited wealth’.

Nevertheless, you are censured because your coal business has contaminated countless number of species, your food industry being exposed because it makes use of palm oil taken from illegally deforested plantations, your agriculture industry humiliated because it is involved in a genocide of primates, your mining industry being boycotted by Greenpeace activists because it dumps mercury what the activists claim as 2436 times higher than the standard, your oil & gas industry being caviled after found out bribing the military to raze locals’ homes, combined with so-called human rights abuses, in and around oil fields, and your telecommunication industry came under scrutiny as one would be socially isolated assume he/she didn’t equip themselves with phone credits (eyes squinting at someone from Mexico).

Knowing that you are rich but you are vulnerable, you realize there’s something you should do, to a further extent to say the least, to have their lips sealed. You launch a ‘plant-10-billion-tree’ program, invest billions of dollars in clean energy program, provide billions of dollars in form of microfinance to 1 million peasants in critical need of funding, build hospitals, schools, universities, endorse research for cancer, AIDS and malaria, construct two-by-fours apartment flats for the homeless, and, lastly, an effort to expand your corporate army, sponsor full scholarship (and full employment) for 100 thousand students deemed the best and the brightest.

And at the same time, you do the former and the latter simultaneously. But, thanks to frequent ads you pay for TV stations, people start to overlook your wrongdoings. Yes, you only expect God to know all the mistakes.

Refer to the previous point, but this time, revise ‘oligarch’ and change it with ‘mobster’.

This time, you own all the largest, most Macau-esque gambling venues in this country to help aiding in a youth organization (whereas it’s a swarm of criminals, complete with bright-colored military-like uniforms), together with all stuff rated ‘hellish’, for instance, discotheques, night clubs, loan sharks, prostitution, and all other industries else regarded illegal and inhumane. Your rankers most of the time instigate duels with cops, who are as dubbed by Haruki Murakami, ‘state-sponsored freemen’. But for sure, you know you won’t let your name rot the day you have to leave this profane world, so you try to be a bit redolent by, say the least, help paying the surgery of all Siamese twins in your country. Or, back to the basic principle: paying up for thousand tons of rice and instant noodle given to the poorest and the homeless.

Or it can be said that you are the both.

Let me pick up one more example, but this sounds a bit terrifying, at least for me (and those who correctly guess it). Right now, you were a new conglomerate, having a bank to cash out some (say your bank is worth a few trillion dollars, hyperbolically) to fund national megaprojects (whatever, it can be inter-region bridges, million-hectare farms and/or plantations, tollroads, power plants, and what’s more, skyscraper-filled CBDs), and a herd of hundred companies entangled in all those projects. At the same time, you are indirectly in full control of gambling and drug-smuggling industries (or any those mobster-related affairs that can be mentioned). And then a Wikileaks cable flippantly exposed your ‘special’ relationship with the potentate. In an interview, you denied having such linkage, and instead diverted all the topic to your monitoring over hundreds of projects conducted by a non-profit organization aimed in promoting ‘eternal compassion for humanity’. Yes, the one you lead in, and the one you pour in with the 12-digit cash, as well.

Cashing in the charitable foundations is the safest form of money-laundering.

And it’s, ironically, true! In case you have disbelief in government and want to evade tax, or transfer some of the revenues you gain from casinos, drug trading, and loan sharks (one more: corruption!), the only safest way you can afford is to set up a trust, promising you will channel the funds to help revitalizing schools and hospitals. Auditors may be damned for trying to investigate the all-do-good.

I believe good deeds attract better outcome.  

Wrong. It is a noteworthy lesson to learn from George Clooney. Before he left Darfur, Sudan, after covering all the atrocities going on there, he grabbed chances to bequeath water wells for a village he once paid a visit to. Assured that bringing in water wells would reduce the drought suffered by most of the villagers, the initiative, contrariwise, resulted in a fatal catastrophe: hundreds of the villagers were killed by masses from a neighboring village, having resented that they did not obtain the ‘similar attention as the former had by Clooney’. Having learnt the bitter experience, Clooney decided to focus in entirely aiding the war-ravaged region. One lesson to learn: it’s not Clooney’s fault, for sure, but one thing we realize that even Rhonda Byrne’s self-invented ‘law of attraction’ may be, just like the general principle of light, bent.

Doing good is right now a trend.      

And now it is for global celebrities, nowadays. See it further: Angelina Jolie is right now a main ambassador of UNHCR, having to deal with problems facing global refugees at the same time enlarging her career as an actress, magnifying her arduous tasks as a mother of 6 adopted children, and in managing her most beloved one, Brad Pitt. Ben Affleck puts much attention in conflicts D.R. of Congo faces, and Sean Penn concentrates on rebuilding Haitian schools. Or follow what U2 had done: forcing G8 leaders (the Great 8 Debt-Laden Nations) to cancel the debts currently burdening the world’s poorest countries as much as 40 billion dollars. Seems like all these things are so overtly spectacular, but there’s one thing I would like to say: yes, it has something to do with ‘statistical numbing’ (read my previous note, the irony behind steve jobs’ death, to understand further what that is).

Or maybe a campaign to sustain your popularity.

Whether they are really doing all these virtues by heart or not, this only remains to be answered, personally, by their very own conscience. A very intimately private question.

Conclusion: is all what they have been doing wrong? Not really. To be more concise, human logic, just like theirs, yours, and mine, is like two sides of coins. At one point, we can believe that we do good deeds on the basis that we can really help lifting them up from the excruciation they are facing. But, not trying to be a hypocrite, at least, we have to be honest, at times, that even the nefarious criminals and the most impious individuals, realize they still have goodwill to be preserved. It’s never as easy as it seems to differentiate the pure good and the pure evil.