The Ethics of International Development and Food Security
When South Korea’s Daewoo announced last November that it was in negotiations with the impoverished African island of Madagascar for the leasing of 1 million acres of agricultural land for a period of 99 years, the issue sparked several debates about the ethics of food security and international development.
Advocates called the proposed arrangement a win-win situation. Korea, which has limited land space for crops, would be able to grow its own supply of corn in the midst of rising commodity prices. Madagascar, it was argued, would benefit financially from Korea’s investment as the money would go toward further developing the nation. Daewoo also said that during the next 20 years, it would invest $6 billion in Madagascar to build ports, roads, irrigation systems and other infrastructure related to its agribusiness endeavors on the island. Such investments would create more jobs for local citizens, thus supplying people with enough money to buy food and other necessities, Daewoo argued.
Some critics, on the other hand, compared the arrangement to modern-day colonization and questioned the ethics involved:
Not everyone is convinced that Daewoo’s move is the most effective way of promoting food security. Riots have shaken dozens of countries across the world over the past year as poor people have found themselves unable to pay the rocketing prices for staples such as rice, corn and sugar. The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) runs school-feeding schemes for children in Madagascar, where about 70% of the country’s 20 million people live below the poverty line. The island’s residents also rely on WFP emergency-food-relief programs because of the frequency with which they are struck by cyclones and droughts. Given those hardships, the prospect of a corporate giant growing hundreds of tons of food to be consumed by people and animals in Korea raises “ethical concerns,” says David Hallam, head of the FAO’S Trade Policy Service in Rome. “If we have another world food crisis, and you have a poor country where food is produced by foreign investors and then repatriated, that is ethically and political tricky,” Hallam warns.
What are the limits when it comes to propositions such as tenant farming? Are there more reasonable alternatives to fufilling both the needs of a country like Korea and Madagascar? Or is the proposed plan an example of the new face of foreign investment, food security and international development?