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U.N. hopes to limit foreign farmland investment

A cow ruminates on a maize farm in Ezbet al-Galayla on the outskirts of Berket al-Sabaa village in the Egyptian Nile delta province of Al-Minufiyah on March 23, 2012.

Adriene Hill: The U.N. wants limits on the amount of farmland foreign investors can buy up around the world. The organization will vote on new voluntary guidelines in mid-May. They are meant to help control land-grabs by wealthy countries like South Korea and Saudi Arabia in places like Africa and Latin America.  

For more we go now to John Hodinott. He's a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Good morning.

John Hodinott: Good morning, how are you?

Hill: I'm well, thanks. So why does it matter if foreign companies buy up farmland?

Hodinott: Well, like many things in life, there are some potential benefits to these land purchases, but there are also some real risks.

Hill: And what are some of the risks?

Hodinott: In many countries, land is held under customary tenure, as opposed to there being formal rights. And so there's a very real risk that people with not well-defined property rights can lose their access to their land, and that's a big issue for poor people. There's some issues about whether or not the food will all be exported, or some of it will be available for local consumption. And when these deals are kind of murky, there's also potential scope for corruption.

Hill: Now, you said there were also benefits -- what are those?

Hodinott: OK, well, when these arrangements are done properly, and in an open and transparent fashion, it means there is scope for, perhaps, new investment; perhaps bringing in new technologies; and for increasing local food supply.

Hill: Now, do these kind of deals jeopardize food security for groups of people?

Hodinott: At this point, it's unclear. Although there's been a lot of deals, not all that land has actually been converted into farmland. And so we're still trying to work out on the ground exactly what's happening.

Hill: John Hodinott from the International Food Policy Research Institute, thanks.

Hodinott: Not at all.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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