An article by Devinder Sharma in the Hindustan Times (23rd Dec) focusses on India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to China to set up special economic zones and industrial parks in India.
The International Business Times reports that the government is offering Chinese investors easy access to land and minimal red-tape.
Chinese investors have visited Uttar Pradesh, Haryana,Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu looking for probable sites. Companies from Britain, US, Austria and Thailand have concluded 36 deals to buy agricultural land in India in the states of Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Seven of these deals have already been completed allowing 13,105 hectares to be acquired. Sharma points out that Indian companies also have invested abroad, making 65 deals to grow foodgrains, sugarcane, oilseeds, tea and flowers.
The figures are provided by the Land Matrix Global Observatory which has been developed by a group of five international research centres. BBC News reports a research finding that ‘hype’ about the extent of these transactions, has been coming from investment companies trying to influence the market, but the LM database does suggest that more than 46 million hectares of land have changed hands in 756 verified land deals – half in Africa.
Dr Ward Anseeuw, from the French research centre CIRAD, told BBC News of “worrying trends emerging. What we are seeing is the development of other instruments that allow investors to be more invisible, such as contract farming or through bank control. Instead of buying land through a foreign entity, they are buying stakes in local agribusiness that are controlling these lands.”
Community land threatened
CHS’ founder, Winin Pereira, would have agreed with the concern of Michael Taylor from the International Land Coalition: “In many cases, it is common land or community land that is under threat. If it is grazing land or land that local people use, they don’t have any legal protection. It is on this land that we see the gravest of threats.”
Pereira rejected the dismissive use of the term ‘waste land’ when applied to rural India, having studied the varied uses made of the commons which offer free edible fruits and medicinal herbs:
‘Waste” lands and forests provide manures. Months before the paddy season, farmers collect cowdung, and vegetable matter from a number of plants, not all nitrogen-fixing legumes. In addition to herbs and shrubs, leaves of deciduous trees that have been shed naturally, are collected. Only a few side branches of big trees are lopped. Some of the plants used are: inodi, saag, adulsa, neem, sher, rui. The last is particularly used for saline lands. Such trees often grow or can be planted on bunds; and hedges. (Extract from https://chssachetan.wordpress.com/publications/asking-the-earth)
The economic paradox is highlighted by Sharma:
The prime minister is expecting Chinese foreign direct investment to boost manufacturing output which has lower orders because of competition from cheaper Chinese imports . . .
He also airs the military security contradiction, wondering if Beijing would ever allow Indian companies to buy huge tracts of farmland in China:
“Lakhs of soldiers are deployed in harsh terrain to guard the 3,380 km long Line of Control with China, of which Arunachal Pradesh alone has a common border extending to 1,463 km, the thrust is to protect every inch of land against Chinese intrusion. This policy of protecting national borders certainly needs a review considering that the Chinese are being allowed to purchase land within the country”.
‘Landgrab’ has grave human rights implications and will impact on global food security
Sharma believes as firms come in to produce crops for export in India, at a time when food prices have hit the roof, any measure to limit domestic production should raise concerns considering the growing food requirement for feeding the nation in the years to come:
“At this rate the day is not far off when increasingly more and more people will become landless in their own country. The US National Academy of Science calls it ‘a new form of colonialism’ while mainline economists term it as a model of economic growth. However, the fact remains that land grab has become a major investment activity over the past few years . . . calls for a national debate”.