With only 1% of land suitable for agricultural cultivation, the dry Gulf State of Qatar has asked Kenya to lease 40,000 hectares of land south of Lamu, in the Tana river delta, to grow food crops.
If the proposal is accepted, Qatar would fund a new port at a cost of 3.5 million US Dollars on the island of Lamu, thus opening up a new trade corridor to the Indian Ocean for landlocked Ethiopia and the autonomous region of Southern Sudan.
Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki is said to be seriously considering the offer despite strong opposition from locals, environmentalists, who believe forests, mangroves and savannah will be destroyed, and pastoralists, who use the land communally and graze around 60,000 cattle in the delta each dry season.
Qatar’s proposal is the most recent example of a growing trend for rich countries to establish and secure food production in poorer nations, causing concern among experts. Jacques Diouf, the director general of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, has even spoken of the emergence of a ‘neo-colonial’ agricultural system.