Countries should be careful about selling their farmland to others, especially to China, as the United Nations chief is sounding an alarm about a famine this year and next.
This warning comes from Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
In a commentary article on June 29, Braw points out that China has bought fertile farmland in many countries, but exploited them in different ways.
This could worsen the famines that the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has warned of.
In a speech on June 24, Guterres said that the world faces multiple famines this year and worse in 2023. He said that there would be no effective solution to the global food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production and the food and fertilizer produced by Russia into world markets.
However, Ukrainian grains and other foods won’t be able to enter the world market any time soon because Russia has blocked its sea route during the war between the two countries.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, causing global hunger and galloping food prices, many countries started to realize that they should grow more food. But they have sold much of their best land to China, which uses it to feed its own population.
Over the past few years, Chinese companies have sought to buy farmland in countries, from the U.S. and France to Vietnam.
In 2013, Hong Kong-based food giant WH Group bought Smithfield, America’s largest pork producer, and more than 146,000 acres of Missouri farmland.
Also in that year, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps bought 9% of Ukraine’s famously fertile farmland, equal to 5% of the country’s total territory, with a 50-year lease.
With China in charge of a chunk of its territory, Ukraine might also have to worry that China could divest its holdings abruptly, thereby exacerbating its economic woes.
Between 2011 and 2020, China bought nearly seven million hectares of farmland around the world, surpassing other powers. The U.K. bought nearly two million hectares, while the U.S. and Japan bought less than a million hectares.
The matter is what the Chinese do with the farmland they bought.
In Congo, the Chinese buyers got approval from the previous administration to take 100,000 hectares to produce for palm oil, and the cultivation causes damaging deforestation.
In Zimbabwe, its people are hungry and in need of basic staples. However, the Chinese bought their farmland, using it to produce beef for export back to China.
According to Elisabeth Braw, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, loss of arable land is becoming calamitous for countries better-positioned than Zimbabwe.
By April, wholesale food prices had risen 18% year-on-year, mostly due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. That is the largest increase in nearly five decades.
In France, wheat prices have doubled since 2020.
China is likely to want to buy more foreign land because it has 21% of the world’s population but only 7% of productive farmland.
Braw said that countries should start requiring screening of farmland acquisitions by foreign entities.
She said that such scrutiny should be accompanied by efforts to buy land back from China and any other strategic rivals.