Special Issue on Land Acquisitions in SE Asia

The journal International Development Policy which is edited at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and is open access has just published a special issue on land acquisitions.

Beside theoretical articles it has a special focus on South-East Asia and the cultivation of industrial crops like rubber.

Martin Keulertz and I have contributed an article about States as Actors in International Argo-Investments where we compare the Gulf States with China and governments in agro exporter nations such as Brazil, Russia and Thailand.

New Book about Chinese Agro-Investments in Africa

Deborah Brautigam of SAIS at Johns Hopkins University has published a new book about Chinese Agro-Investments in Africa that is already available as e-book (as hardcover in November).

Like Oil for Food she points to misleading media perceptions and states a widespread implementation gap of Chinese agro-investments. She challenges four conventional wisdoms in particular:

a) Chinese land acquisitions in Africa have been limited.

b) Private actors have played a major role in Chinese agro-investments, the role of the state is less pronounced than commonly assumed.

c) There have been no grain exports from Africa to China. Chinese investments mainly target local markets. As far as food trade occurs it is rather the other way around, i.e. China exports food to Africa.

d) There has not been a large scale influx of Chinese peasant framers to Africa.

Food Security of Refugees in Iraq and Syria and the EU

I have just returned from traveling in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and CIDOB has published a short brief of mine on the Iraqi and Syrian refugee situation and implications for the EU.

Currently there are 4 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and 7.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the country. This is half of the entire population and almost a fifth of the global refugee population.

Iraq now has 3.2 million IDPs, mostly from the ISIS provinces Anbar and Ninewa and 250,000 refugees from northern Syria. Beyond IDPs and refugees there are non-displaced Iraqis who suffer hardship, pushing the total tally of people who are in need of humanitarian assistance to 8.2 million.

The food security situation is challenging in both countries. IDPs and refugees engage in negative coping mechanisms like eating less and cheaper, spending savings, incurring debt and selling assets. As these strategies are reaching their limits the inclination to move on towards Europe is growing.

Refugees and IDPs constitute a considerable pressure on domestic services and resources in Iraq, at a time when oil price declines have led to budget shortfalls. Besides, there are security concerns and sectarian prejudice. Meanwhile assistance programs of the World Food Programme are severely underfunded. It is high time for the EU tho step in and fund emergency relief in the region, otherwise the refugee crisis will get worse.

Call For Papers: Africa, Latin America and the “Asian Century”

OCP Policy Center and CIDOB invite the submission of papers that explore Reconfiguration of the Global South: Africa, Latin America and the “Asian Century”.

The conference will be held in Barcelona on 27-29 January 2016. For the full call for papers click here.

Proposals should be submitted electronically to ewoertz@cidob.org and lilia.rizk@ocppc.ma no later than 30 October 2015.

Papers can deal with a broad based variety of topics that explore the mutual relationship and the positioning of the two continents in the emerging “Asian Century”, such as:

– Rise of emerging markets countries and what it means for an increasingly multilateral international system.
– New geopolitical constructions of the Global South: Asian vs. Western interests in Africa and Latin America.
– Theoretical approaches to democratization, transition and development.
– Trade and investment relations.
– Domestic growth strategies and development cooperation, particularly in infrastructure financing, energy, environmental preservation, agriculture and food security.
– Port cities and their role in facilitating exchange between the two continents.
– Maritime security and hard security issues.
– Free trade areas and regional association agreements.
– Migrant communities and cultural relations.
– Sustainable management of cities.

Food Security Situation in Iraq

This article by Hadi Fathallah for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offers interesting insights on the current food security situation in Iraq, based on reports by international organizations like the World Food Programme, Arabic and western press reports.

The wheat harvest in ISIS controlled territory has declined, in contrast to civil servant salaries, producer subsidies from the central government in Baghdad do not reach ISIS territory anymore. The government has not budgeted funds for procurement of wheat from ISIS areas in its 2015 budget. The coverage of the Public Distribution System for refugees in non-ISIS territory is limited.

Food imports will need to increase at a time when oil prices have declined and more spending is directed towards military and security issues. The food security situation in Iraq is about to get more critical.

The Myth of Climate and Water Wars in the MENA

El Pais, Spain’s largest daily newspaper, has published an article of mine about “The Myth of Climate and Water Wars in the Middle East“ (in Spanish).

Like our earlier article in Footnote1 it argues that water scarcity and climate change are  serious issues, but that primary reasons for unrest in the Middle East can be found in its political economy.

The climate and water war narratives might be intuitively appealing but they are not convincing in comparison. The environment is not an external category that would transform itself mechanically into sociopolitical outcomes.

Saudi Arabia and Bunge buy 50.1% Stake in former Canadian Wheat Board

This is quite big and exactly the kind of trade oriented investment in the value chains of developed agro markets that I have anticipated in the conclusion of Oil for Food.

Saudi government owned company SALIC teams up with international grain trader giant Bunge to buy a 50.1% stake in the former Canadian Wheat Board, which the Canadian government has now privatized. The other 49.9% will be owned by Canadian farmers.

SALIC was founded in 2012 in the wake of the King Abdullah Initiative for Agricultural Investments Abroad (KAISAIA).

I would expect more of this kind of investment rather than the widely publicized land investments in food insecure developing countries that have made media headlines, but have often not been implemented.

Martin Keulertz and I are dealing with the aspect of food trading companies and value chain investments in a forthcoming article in the fall issue of International Development Policy.

Economic Crisis of ISIS: Media Overview

The main thesis of my policy brief in October “How Long Will ISIS Last Economically” has been increasingly picked up in the media and think tank papers, i.e. that the ISIS economy is a “Ponzi scheme of looting” and far from self-sustaining.

Below you find a list of media articles that expand on this theme and have quoted my policy brief:

Slate Magazine ; BBC ; CNBC ; National Post ; Die Zeit ; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ; Democracy Digest ; Jamestown Foundation ; Business Insider ; The Marshal Center ; Al Ahram Hebdo .

These articles also contain further interesting details, most notably the sequestration of houses of retired government personnel in Deir el- Zor (Al Hayat):

Washington Post ; Al Hayat ; Der Spiegel

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Arab World and Financial Challenges

Martin Keulertz and I have published a new article in the International Journal of Water Resources Development: “Financial Challenges of the Nexus: Pathways for investment in water, energy and agriculture in the Arab world.”


The Water–Energy–Food (WEF) nexus is a development challenge in the Arab world,
particularly in the ‘core nexus countries’ with low to mid-incomes in which limited
water endowments permit agricultural production, such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia,
Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Jordan. The WEF nexus is often conceptualized in mere
technocratic terms, yet politics matter in the implementation of projects that address it.
Internalizing hydrological externalities or leaving them as they are and financing them
as a public good requires states whose capacities have been reduced as a result of
neoliberal reform. The article explores five different pathways of how Arab countries
could finance green growth projects ranging from regional financial markets to
concessionary loans by funds from oil rich Gulf countries.