Food and power. The situation in Madagascar caused me to reflect on this more deeply: the elected president has been driven from office (officially he resigned) in favor of a young politician supported by the military. The new president is too young to even serve in that office, according to Madagascar’s current constitution. But, the new president assured the country, not to worry since the constitution would be rewritten. The African Union has suspended Madagascar for its undemocratic transfer of power. The deadly street protests that roiled Madagascar’s capital city for weeks have ended. One of the factors cited for the discontent among a certain number of Madagascar’s people with the now old regime was the deal it had signed with South Korea’s Daewoo corporation. The deal, announced in 2008, would allow Daewoo to lease a vast tract of Madagascar — by some accounts, half the country’s arable land, an area half the size of Belgium — to grow corn for export back to South Korea. Some saw it as neo-colonial; others said, with so much food insecurity in Madagascar itself, why would our government agree to this? The corn, of course, would go mostly to feed South Korean livestock. (Another tract would be leased to produce palm oil.)
The new president in Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, has announced that the Daewoo deal is off. Daewoo is unhappy and who knows if it will be revived, with, perhaps more expert public relations? But no matter: an elected government has been toppled at least in part over a land lease for export of a commodity crop for animal feed. That might be a first. But perhaps the shape of things to come. Remember the massive protests that rocked South Korea itself in 2008 at the proposed resumption of U.S. beef imports after they were ended when “mad cow” was found in U.S. cattle. Some analysts saw the protests as about food sovereignty, as well as sovereignty more generally: a registering of discontent with the perceived authoritarian tendencies of South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. His government survived, but surely the protests were a milestone of sorts. Increasingly, food will be power, and political systems will have to respond.
Click here for an interview with a small scale South Korean woman farmer about the Madagascar-Daewoo deal and larger issues of food, power, security and sovereignty.