The Hungry Dragon: China Looks West For Food Security

Via The Vancouver Sun, a look at China’s global hunt for food security, in particular its desire for Kazakhstani agricultural land which some view as another tentacle of Beijing’s creeping imperialism.  As the article notes:

“…President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has an unmatched survival instinct.

This, after all, is a man who came to power in the dying days of the Soviet Union as Communist party general-secretary of the Central Asian republic, and then rode the transition to democracy by getting elected president.

Subsequent elections, which no one would pretend were free and fair, have reaffirmed Nazarbayev’s supremacy. The constitution has been tinkered with to allow him to keep putting on pantomime elections and staying in power as long as he likes.

So when Nazarbayev allows several hundred of his subjects to hold a street demonstration, as he did in the capital Almaty a few days ago, there is political motivation behind it.

In this case, it was most likely to let the steam out of a highly emotional issue and to warn China not to get too ambitious.

What prompted the protest was an announcement in December that China wants to lease one million hectares of farmland in Kazakhstan to grow soya and other crops.

The Kazakhstanis, whose close cousins are the heavily suppressed Uighurs of China’s neighbouring Xinjiang province, are already nervous about Beijing’s growing control of their oil industry.

Many see China’s desire for Kazakhstani agricultural land as another tentacle of Beijing’s creeping imperialism.

The Kazakhstanis are not alone. All over Asia and Africa people and governments have been watching for more than a decade as Chinese agricultural businesses, usually closely linked to Beijing, have sought to buy or take long-term leases on agricultural land.

This is the Chinese government’s response to a bleak equation. China has 22 per cent of the world’s population — 1.3 billion people — but only seven per cent of its arable land.

At the same time, China is losing farmland at an alarming rate to its burgeoning cities and industrial development. And as many Chinese become richer they want a better and more expensive diet.

China is not alone in worrying about how it’s going to feed its people.

And, like several other countries, Beijing does not trust the marketplace to supply its needs.

South Korea, some of the Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia are all following similar policies. Indeed, the acquisition of 50 per cent of Madagascar’s arable land on a 99-year lease by the South Korean multinational Daewoo led to a coup last March.

This suggests, of course, trying to control foreign land may be counter-productive.

It is such deals that led Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, head of the continent’s association of nations, the African Union, until last weekend, to say the scramble for African land is a “new feudalism.”

And speaking at the time of food riots in 2008, caused primarily by the fad for growing biofuels instead of food, Jacques Diouf, head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, called the land grab by foreign countries “neo-colonialism.”

China, which carefully nurtures its own sense of colonial victimhood, is sensitive to allegations of imperialism — up to a point.

Beijing’s forays into Africa in particular are presented as a mutually beneficial development project.

That intensely irritating phrase, “a win-win situation,” is frequently used to describe the deals whereby China buys natural resources, develops agriculture and builds infrastructure. Africans in return get economic advancement and technical development.

At its best, China’s involvement in Africa undoubtedly has some of those spinoffs. But all too often the money and other benefits speed past the local people without stopping.

After all, major attractions of doing business in Africa — for all the land-grabbers not just China — is that well over 90 per cent of African land is owned by the state, and dealing with the state usually involves agreeing terms with a handful of people, often only one.

Take China’s $2.3 billion loan to the government of Mozambique to build the Mpanda Nkua dam on the Zambezi river in Tete province.

The financing of this project has made the Maputo government open to leasing land to China for some huge farms and cattle ranches in the same district.

But these farms will not be run by Mozambicans. Part of the deal is that 3,000 Chinese settlers move in to work the farms.”

This entry was posted on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 2:26 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
Seeds Of A Revolution is committed to defining the disruptive geopolitics of the global Farms Race.  Due to the convergence of a growing world population, increased water scarcity, and a decrease in arable land & nutrient-rich soil, a spike of international investment interest in agricultural is inevitable and apt to bring a heretofore domestic industry into a truly global realm.  Whether this transition involves global land leases or acquisitions, the fundamental need for food & the protectionist feelings this need can give rise to is highly likely to cause such transactions to move quickly into the geopolitical realm.  It is this disruptive change, and the potential for a global farms race, that Seeds Of A Revolution tracks, analyzes, and forecasts.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has long held a keen interest in natural resource policy and the geopolitical implications of anticipated stresses in the areas of freshwater scarcity, biodiversity reserves & parks, and farm land.  Monty has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries spanning Africa, China, western Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast & Central Asia, and his personal interests comprise economic development, policy, investment, technology, natural resources, and the environment, with a particular focus on globalization’s impact upon these subject areas.  Monty writes about freshwater scarcity issues at and frontier investment markets at