Food for Oil

04 Aug 2009

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have recently taken steps to formalize ‘food for oil’ agreements between the two regions, sparking fears for farmers and food security.

Activists and food security experts have expressed concern about the steps taken between the two regions at a meeting in Bahrain this June, warning that the lack of transparency surrounding the deals as well as missing information in government statements could potentially open the door for abuse and corruption.

Governments around the world have been reconsidering their food security status seriously since the 2007-2008 food crisis that saw many food-producing nations reduce their exports. The scare pushed many oil-rich, food-poor Gulf States to seek long-term lease rights to foreign farmland, with an increased interest in land in Southeast Asia.

Opponents are concerned that land seized in Southeast Asia and committed to growing food for export to Gulf states would increase prices in the domestic market and drive out small farmers. Jacques Diouf, the head of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), cautioned that the deals could result in a kind of ‘neo-colonialism’ where Southeast Asian countries export food to Gulf states at the expense of their own underfed people.

Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s special reporter on the “Right to Food”, said: ‘States all too often are led to make such deals because they are attracted to immediate rewards. But they should look at the long-term consequences.’

Food security experts have called for a ‘code of conduct’ to cover these deals in order to protect the host countries and local farmers.

Source: Asia Times Online

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