The International Land Grab

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIn the United States, almost no one thinks about the Patagonia region of Argentina. There is little reason to think about it. It is a somewhat mountainous, barren, desolate place with few people. Yet it does hold some rich agricultural land where Argentine farmers do live and have lived for two to three hundred years. There is one other reason why it is now in the news. A Chinese government company has “rented” land in Patagonia to help grow more food for China. The Chinese company simply rents the land and uses it to grow rice and soybeans. This in itself does not concern the Argentine farmers in the region. What concerns the Argentine farmers is what the Chinese company will do with the land after they leave.

The farmers are concerned that once the Chinese company will leave, it will leave a land heavily polluted by chemicals and a destroyed environment they will have to deal with. Worse, most Argentine farmers fear that the lands destroyed by the Chinese company will affect their lands and crops too. They have voiced their concerns with the Argentine government. However, the Argentine government does not seem interested in the plight of the Argentine farmers. This comes as no shock since the Argentine government is trying to woo the Chinese government to invest more in Argentina. Profits over people in Argentina is nothing new. And governments buying land in Argentina is not new either.

What is new is that we now have a growing number of companies—either private or government-owned—buying or renting land in other countries with more abundant arable land to try and grow food for their populations. While this in of itself is not a major moral dilemma yet, what is a dilemma are these companies leaving ruined agricultural lands for the governments of these countries to sort out. Many companies from Third World countries do not have strict rules about how they may mess up the lands in the countries they buy or rent land. Likewise, many Third World countries that have arable lands are as equally careless about preventing vicious exploitation of their own lands. Sadly, local people like the Argentine farmers in Patagonia will be left to fend for themselves. The danger for the whole world is that this will become a pattern in a growing number of Third World countries, and this will affect the planet. Even though almost none of us think about Patagonia in Argentina, we might want to spare a thought about it.

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