And I see it took only four days for this to reach The Hole. Had it been R. Elgin (the Marmot's Hole post author) who had written the comment below instead of The Marmot Himself, I'd have appreciated a hat tip. It is curious, Marmot, that you didn't do a post on this yourself, especially given your ties and insight to Tanzania and the rest of East Africa.
This past spring, many pundits and bloggers alike were falling over themselves trying to be biggest critic of South Korea's grand bargain (before there was a Grand Bargain™) with Madagascar. The deal would have had a South Korean proxy controlling, through a 99-year lease, a chunk of that island nation equal to the size of Belgium (which, no coincidence, is the Korea or Europe™).
Like many geopolitical things involving Korea, it ignited into violence, turmoil, and civil war. The new guy who took over said he would cancel the deal, which was reported by the British press as the catalyst for the overthrow of the previous government. The British press also inveighed against the deal, led by Daewoo Logistics, calling it exploitative colonization of Africa.
And if there's one thing the British know, it's exploitative colonization of Africa.
Although Daewoo Logistics had promised the development of infrastructure — roads, hospitals, schools, farming equipment, etc. — the deal was tainted because it was seen as favoring the old president, and thus it was canceled.
Food security is a growing issue for many countries whose populations exceed the arable land on which they sit. South Korea, Taiwan, China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and others have been quietly making deals to take over (or at least lease) large tracts of land to be used for farming.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing can depend a lot on what the the food-seeking countries can offer the people of the land-granting country. Here in Hawaii, I've met a number of international students from Africa, who have said not so pleasant things about what they refer to as exploitation by the Chinese.
By contrast, I have heard far more positive things about the South Koreans in their countries, but this may be an apples-and-oranges comparison: the Chinese are exploiting the land, while the South Koreans are largely NGO workers and missionaries setting up hospitals and other do-gooder services. Would South Korean companies operating under a major land-leasing deal be any different from the Chinese?
This is a pertinent question because, as I reported earlier, South Korea has penned a similar (but considerably less ambitious) deal in Tanzania. This would have the state-run Korea Rural Community Corporation (KRCC), a division of the Agriculture Ministry, developing a thousand square kilometers (a little under 400 square miles) of land. Half of it will be for local farmers, and the other half will be used to produce processed goods for Korea.
Now just what does "develop" mean? From the BBC article:
[The KRCC] says it will produce processed foods like cooking oil, wine and starch on the land.So the idea is to behave differently from "their past colonialists"? While their "present colonialists" be any different? The last paragraph there suggests a potential for gold fever to ruin things.
Lee Ki-Churl, a corporation official, said he expected Tanzanians to benefit from the deal.
"Some African countries export fruit and import fruit juice, or export olives and import olive oil, simply because their past colonialists did not teach them how to process food," he told the AFP news agency.
"We plan to set up an education centre for Tanzanian farmers in the food-processing zone in order to transfer agricultural know-how and irrigation expertise to them."
He said about 100bn won ($83m) would be spent to develop an initial 100 sq km of land over the next few years.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the corporation hoped to exploit deposits of iron ore, gold and copper in other parts of the Tanzania to help fund its project.
The KRCC themselves ought to face some scrutiny. Here's the kind of project they work on, according to their website:
The Large-scale Comprehensive Agricultural Development Project carries out general projects such as the development of water resources, the farmland consolidation, and the reclamation of tidelands for specific areas centered upon river basin to effectively develop the foundation for agricultural production and to promote the establishment of a welfare rural community through the improvement in the farming environment and in agricultural productivity.That's right, these are the folks who, among other things, help dig up mudflats and wetlands to make farmland in South Korea, as in the project shown in the picture below.
From what I've heard of them before, they do a reasonable job of improving opportunity for the farmers in those areas, but at what environmental cost? A good question would be whether their expertise at building irrigation systems will be more suitable for bringing water to dry parts of Africa than it is for drying out wet parts of Korea to grow more rice. Maybe, then, this type of project is a good thing.
Operative word: Maybe. The KRCC should be watched like a hawk. Any Korean corporate group who works with them should be watched like a hawk. Moreover, if part of the aim is to truly improve the lives of the people who are doing the farming, have some legitimate Korean NGOs go in there and help the local Tanzanians with what they need (schools, hospitals, roads, etc.). There are already South Korean NGOs doing do-gooder stuff in the area, including a branch of the Saemaul Corporation which was largely responsible for improving the lives of rural South Koreans. Get them involved, particularly in a capacity that allows for checks-and-balances.
The goal should be twofold: Treat the Tanzanians as if they were South Koreans (well, better, I suppose) and be better than your competitors. In the 1960s and beyond, there were clear goals set for the improvement of the lives of the farmers in South Korea, and a similar standard should be set.
All South Koreans should understand that they and their country will be judged on the outcome of such deals. You have been warned.
I suppose I should translate this into Korean, eh?
[Side note: The same BBC article talks as if the Madagascar cancellation may not be written in stone. Specifically, it says the deal "has been thrown into uncertainty." In my book, that doesn't mean an end-all, beat-all cancellation. Is something going on behind the scenes we don't know about? Is Daewoo trying to renegotiate their original deal on terms more favorable to the new government? An interesting prospect.]