Daewoo is best known for its automobiles, though GM bought them out and has been rebadging Daewoo cars as low-end Chevrolets and other brands ever since. GM held a stake in Daewoo cars since 1972.
Automobiles only played a minor part in Daewoo’s fortunes, and misfortunes, over the years, for Daewoo is a South Korean chaebol (big business conglomerate) and has been involved in areas of business that include electronics, heavy industries, shipbuilding, and many others.
Now, though, it’s moving into agriculture.
The Financial Times is reporting that Daewoo has gone halfway around the world, to Madagascar, and leased over 99 years an area of agricultural land half the size of Belgium (1.3 million hectares) – free of charge.
Daewoo intends to produce corn for South Korean consumption, and for export to other nations, using almost half of Madagascar’s arable land of 2.5 million hectares. Daewoo say it will provide employment for Madagascans, along with new roads, irrigation, and grain storage facilities.
According to the FT:
……a European diplomat in southern Africa said: “We suspect there will be very limited direct benefits [for Madagascar]. Extractive projects have very little spill-over to a broader industrialisation.”
South Korea is not the only nation to turn to Africa for its future food supplies. The Guardian’s George Monbiot has long been campaigning against pillage of the continent in this way:
…….we learn that Middle Eastern countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are securing their future food supplies by trying to buy land in poorer nations. The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia wants to set up a series of farms abroad, each of which could exceed 100,000 hectares. Their produce would not be traded: it would be shipped directly to the owners. The FT, which usually agitates for the sale of everything, frets over “the nightmare scenario of crops being transported out of fortified farms as hungry locals look on.” Through “secretive bilateral agreements,” the paper reports, “the investors hope to be able to bypass any potential trade restriction that the host country might impose during a crisis.”
Both Ethiopia and Sudan have offered the oil states hundreds of thousands of hectares. This is easy for the corrupt governments of these countries: in Ethiopia the state claims to own most of the land; in Sudan an envelope passed across the right desk magically transforms other people’s property into foreign exchange. But 5.6 million Sudanese and 10 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food aid. The deals their governments propose can only exacerbate such famines.”
Madagascar, also, is a nation in poverty. 70 percent of its populace live below the poverty line. According to the FT, the WFP presently provides food relief to about 600,000 people there.
As global warming begins to bite, food will become an ever more valuable commodity. The wealthy nations are setting aside grain for the hard times ahead, and are doing so by robbing Africans of the land they need to survive.
The specter of “crops being transported out of fortified farms as hungry locals look on” will likely transform to reality sooner than we think.
 “Daewoo to cultivate Madagascar land for free” FT, November 19th 2008
 “Manufactured Famine” Monbiot, August 26th 2008
Filed under: Rocking the cradle