Reslicing the African Cake: Emerging Markets are the Neo-Neo-Colonialists

WE all remember seeing it in high school history class: the cartoon caricatures of 19th century world powers looming over a cake labeled "Africa," poised to carve it up (anybody out there got a URL for a copy of this cartoon? I’d appreciate it). And thus began the pre-World War I scramble for resources. At the beginning of the 21st century, as at the close of 19th, the story hasn't changed but the players have: China, South Korea, India, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Dubai, and the US (to name a few) are seeking to protect their people's future as climate change begins to drastically alter the ability for these countries to feed (and power) themselves.

According to recent reporting in the Guardian Environment, China is an instructive case study: China has recently halted reforestation projects in “marginally arable land” on fears of food shortage. These reforestation projects would have helped offset increased carbon emissions from Chinese industrialization, slow desertification in southern China, and ease water shortages. How? Land that is not used for agriculture is allowed to rest, and by doing so becomes healthier again as the soil regains nutrients; less crop irrigation means that there would be more water in the system generally. Most forms of crop irrigation use water inefficiently.

China is facing triple pressure: rising food prices, the need to keep industrialization growing a pace, and changing ecological conditions due to climate change. In western China, according to a recent article in the Guardian, new industrial projects will cut into arable land. In other areas, desertification and failing soil will cut into agricultural production. By the end of 2008 China’s arable land has decreased to within 1% of the 120 million hectare land area needed for China to maintain food self-sufficiency. That’s why Chinese interests have secured land for food and biofuel crops in sub-Saharan African countries, and Asia too. There are over one million Chinese farmers in Africa.

Decreased arable land due to climate change will threaten every country. And the decline of fossil fuels will push up food stuff prices all over the world. Last summer the Philippines and India both restricted exports of rice to protect domestic prices and because they feared they wouldn’t have enough to feed their own populations. Environmental groups have launched “buy local” campaigns. The trouble is, many developing countries and emerging markets (I’m differentiating here between the 2nd and 3rd world) remain heavily dependent upon the export of primary products. If the “buy local” movement has its way and a carbon tariff is imposed upon imported food, these countries’ export markets will decline and their economies will suffer. In the run up to World War I not only did colonial holdings increase, but trade protectionism did as well. Protectionist policies designed to mitigate climate change in conjunction with a new resource stripping of Africa via land sales makes it difficult for Africa to reach full economic development in the future.

In the future, the largest global population increases will come from Africa, according to the UN. But given the state of most African economies, jobs do not and will not exist when Africa’s labour force begins to peak later this century. According to Oxfam, as a result of the global recession, 100 million more people slipped into “hunger” and of the now 1 billion people living in hunger worldwide, one-quarter are in Africa. If food prices are increasing, Africa is selling its arable land to foreigners, and it can’t feed itself now, how can it hope to do so in the future?

African governments desperate for cash will allow countries to buy up their resources now, in order to maintain political stability (which will attract future investment). But with climate change already beginning, will Africans have enough resources to reach full economic development themselves in the future? The G8 failed on their Gleneagles promises. This week in L’Aquila they have promised a new $20 million in food aid to Africa. Will they follow through this time? Likely not. G8 governments are heavily indebted and don’t have enough money to carry through plans for greener energy. Infrastructure throughout Europe and America need massive reconstruction if governments' plans to green energy are to be successful. Ironically, Africa’s lack of infrastructure has historically been a barrier to aid absorption and one of the reasons that the developed world has been reluctant to carry-through on promises to double aid to Africa.

As Africa is re-carved by emerging and declining economic giants, it isn’t another lost-decade of development Africa faces as the global recession carries on. Africa faces becoming the continent lost to climate change.

[This is a good place to stop, but anybody worth their salt studying the social effects of climate change will realize the migration implications—and I’ve already ranted enough, I think about missing the (immigration policy) bear.]

Please take note: my sources for this article are mainly from the Guardian articles linked above.


Jonathan Eyler-Werve said...

As you suggest, the label "emerging market" for China is obsolete. In development circles, China is quickly becoming the economic player that aid recipiant nations listen to first.

Ann said...

BBC Newsnight 24 Aug 2009: Ukraine's land being sold off in the same manner as land in Africa. Libya as a possible investor.

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Ann is a freelance new media journalist, educated in Finance Economics. She considers herself to be a citizen of the world, though she is American by nationality, and a legal resident of the state of Wisconsin (yeah, go ahead and chuckle). See her other blog: Missing The Bear.
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