Dean Nelson in New Delhi India and many other countries like China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea  are acquiring huge tracts of farm land in Africa. Is it the beginning of colonization by former colonies?



India, once the colonial jewel of Britain’s empire, has been accused of “neo-colonialism” in Africa where its entrepreneurs are buying up agricultural estates and taking advantage of cheap labor.


Indian farming companies have bought hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils for their home market.


Devinder Sharma, of India’s Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, said the companies buying up African land to export food were “food pirates” and compared them with English companies that shipped food from Ireland during the 19th-century potato famine.


Its government has given just under €585m of loans to support the ventures.


China, South Korea, and several Arab states have led the way in creating African mega-farms. South Korea has bought just less than 700,000 hectares in Sudan, while Saudi Arabia has signed a deal for 500,000 hectares in Tanzania.

But critics have described the development as “piracy” and “land grabbing”.


More than 80 Indian companies have invested an estimated €1.75bn in buying large plantations in Ethiopia. The biggest is Karuturi Global, which has signed deals for just under 350,000 hectares. The Bangalore-based company, which has also bought farm land in Kenya, is growing sugar cane, oil palm, rice and vegetables.


Indian farming is dominated by small, family-run holdings and legions of middlemen. The cumbersome system is cited as the reason why a large proportion of Indian produce rots before it gets to the market.


With Africa, Indian companies see the possibility to build more efficient, larger agricultural operations. By contrast, many Arab countries buy African land to produce food that their homelands cannot.


A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said more than 2.5 million hectares of African land had been bought by foreign companies since 2004.


Mr Sharma voiced fears of what would happen in the event of a famine. “If food is being shipped out and poor people are dying, what will happen? There would be riots.”


But Sharad Pawar, India’s agriculture minister, rejected claims that the government supported a new colonization of African farmland. “It’s business, nothing more.” ((c) Daily Telegraph, London)


(June 29 2009;

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