Food-Poor Countries Seek Farmland

MOSCOW, Russia -- Wearing flowing red robes and pitching his own trademark desert tent, Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi paid a visit to Ukraine last month in search of a remarkable deal to help feed his oil-rich but soil-poor people.

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qaddafi.

Under a proposed agreement with Kiev, Libya would lease 247,000 acres of Ukraine's rich black land to grow wheat. The harvest would then be shipped back to Libya, giving the desert nation a more secure supply of food in the face of predictions about higher food prices and potential shortages in decades to come.

Ukraine, in turn, would get access to Libyan oil fields, helping free it from dependence on Russia for its energy needs.

Around the world, food-poor but cash-rich countries, spooked by last season's high food prices, are racing to snap up rights to farmland in developing countries and breadbasket nations.

• South Korea's Daewoo Logistics announced last month that it has signed a 99-year lease on 3.2 million acres of land in Madagascar, which it will use to produce corn and palm oil for shipment home.

• China, which already farms more than 100,000 acres of land in Australia, is buying or leasing huge swaths of farmland in the Philippines, Laos, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Cameroon and Uganda, according to Grain, a sustainable-agriculture group based in Spain.

• Gulf nations -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others -- also have locked up millions of acres in Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan and Egypt.

In the United States, a similar buy-up occurred in the late 1980s, when Japan purchased more than half a million acres of farmland in California, Montana, Colorado and Florida.

In contrast to the latest rush, however, the main purpose was to raise cattle for Japan's beef appetite, rather than grain.

"It's literally all over" that rich countries and corporations have been looking for land, said Carl Atkin, head of research for Bidwells Agribusiness.

The rush to buy or enter long-term leases on land has been fueled in part by the low levels of world grain stocks, despite record harvests this year.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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