Monday, August 20, 2012

"On the trail of the land grabbers: The British imperialists snapping up swathes of Africa to cash in on the world's food shortage..."

Time to bring back the Colonial Office, eh what?
From the Daily Mail:
It is an odd retirement hobby. Britain’s top soldier, the former commander of British Land Forces and the man who capped his military career by presiding over the funeral of the Queen Mother, has been planting crops in the African bush.

Not personally, you understand.  But Sir Charles Redmond Watt has been mixing with Chinese billionaires, Saudi sheiks, Wall Street whizzkids and a motley array of British adventurers who agree with the financial guru George Soros that ‘farmland is one of the best investments of our time’. And for those wanting lots of land, nothing comes cheaper than a slice of Africa.

I have spent the past two years on the trail of these land grabbers, who have between them taken control of an area roughly ten times the size  of Britain, most of it in Africa. And  I discovered that Britain is the world’s biggest centre for private land grabbers. City financiers are the new imperialists, returning to colonies we walked away from half a century ago.
Harvest time: Huge tractors on a soya bean farm in Brazil. Farmland is now considered to be one of the best investments of our time
Harvest time: Huge tractors on a soya bean farm in Brazil. 
Farmland is now considered to be one of the best investments of our time
Upon leaving the Army, Sir Charles, who once commanded 125,000 military personnel, became chairman of a shell company, Las Vegas-registered Kryptic Entertainment, which later changed its name to Farm Lands of Guinea.

The company, set up by British sheep farmer Mark Keegan, controls 250,000 acres of bush in the West African state of Guinea, bought on what it describes as ‘extremely generous’ terms from the government there. It will plant 8,000 acres of maize and soya this year.

Fellow board member Nigel Woodhouse, a trustee of Labour peer Lord  Melchett’s Soil Association, told me one village handed over its land for ‘the equivalent of £3’.
It doesn’t sound much for a company that says it is ‘unlocking the riches of an African agricultural treasure trove’, and which is on such good terms with local leaders that it has also secured exclusive rights to market a further 3.7 million acres of Guinea – an area roughly the size of Yorkshire.

His job done, Sir Charles resigned from the outfit last December. He declined to comment on his African sojourn, but who can doubt that his prestige helped clinch deals in the former French colony?

Many of the big beasts of British business have joined the global land rush. Sir Richard Branson, who famously bought two of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, has now

Jim Slater, a notorious asset-stripper from the Seventies, is growing genetically modified maize on Brazilian prairie once owned by the father of racing driver Ayrton Senna. City ‘superwoman’ Nicola Horlick is investing the pension funds of Hampshire and Merseyside councils in Brazilian farmland.

Meanwhile, feted bond trader Guy Hands bought cattle  stations three times bigger than Wales from the estate of the legendary TV mogul Kerry Packer. And Joe Lewis, the owner of Tottenham Hotspur, has invested a chunk of the fortune he made betting against sterling two decades ago to buy a slab of scenic Patagonia....MORE