The most recently received abstract for this weekend’s International Workshop on Korean Trade and Investment in the Mekong Region:
Land Grabs in the Mekong Region
Teresita Cruz-del Rosario, PhD
Former Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Associate Professor
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
National University of Singapore
Key Words: Land acquisition, Southeast Asia; agro-food-feed-fuel complex; multilateral institutions; public-private partnerships; state-transnational capital-local capital alliance
In the Greater Mekong Subregion, land grabs form part of a comprehensive agro-food-feed-fuel complex, one which underlies much of the relationships today between states, corporations, and communities. At the apex of this relationship are states and corporations who, in alliance with local capital and local political agents, promote global strategies to address food and energy insecurities through large-scale land acquisition. These land deals are mostly happening in Southeast Asia, with Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar as favored sites by transnational capital to secure land rights. The “usual suspects” in this global “race for arable lands” (Olivier de Schutter) are countries with rapid economic growth faced with increasing shortages of food for their expanding populations and shrinking land acreage for agriculture production. Most notable are China, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf countries (especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, and the UAE ).
A second feature about land grabs is the speed and scale with which this phenomenon is happening. According to the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, land deals have risen from 20 million hectares to about 227 million hectares during the period 2005-2009 —- a 100 percent increase in land acquisition over a short period of 4 years. Third, the TNI study argued that investments in land have replaced the flow of international capital in the aftermath of the collapse of housing markets in the West. A phenomenon of “land-capital switching” is occurring at a rapid pace in Southeast Asia, with land substituting for capital resources with which to further business development in developing countries. Wittingly or unwittingly, a fourth pillar in the land grab triangle is the multilateral institutions (World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc.) whose preference for large-scale infrastructure projects in these countries promote land acquisition under private-public partnership (PPP) schemes.
This presentation seeks to further investigate this phenomenon in the GMS specifically the role of Korean investments in the agricultural sector as part of a broader strategy to address food insecurity issues in Korea.