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When the Big Overshadows the Little

Touch the Soil News #774 (feature photo – Coat of Arms for the Nation of Zambia – Public Domain)

In the wide world of food and agriculture, the world is undergoing a new colonialism. Big nations that are far beyond their capacity to feed themselves are creating tight economic and political relationships with smaller nations that have excess farmland and water.

It’s a global game of chess in which the stakes are higher than oil – food. While our big player today is China, there are other powerful food-insecure players on the horizon such as India and oil rich but food poor Middle East nations.

Hitting the news recently is China making a critical chess move to politically and economically embrace the much smaller nation of Zambia on the continent of Africa. Zambia is about 6,000 miles from China as the crow flies. Zambia is 13 times smaller than China and has a population is 80 times smaller than China.

When it comes to farmland, China is materially short of feeding itself. China has about 270 million acres of arable land for its population of 1,337 million people. Zambia has 109 million acres of land for its 17 million people. Zambia has 31 times more farmland per capita than China.

Zambia is poor and lacks the capital to create a global agricultural superpower. However, China has the capital and a pressing need to do so. The catch is, however, that Zambia’s ability to grow food is to be destined for China.

This raises a number of ethical questions. Should the world leave no farmland reserve for future generations? Should a nation struggling to control its population numbers be allowed to agriculturally colonize another nation and mine their soils?

What does this mean for Americans? According to the USDA, food imports into the U.S. average roughly $10 billion a month. Much of this food comes from south of the border and includes fruits and vegetables not seasonally available in much of the U.S. In short, the U.S. will increasingly have to compete with other nations for part of its food.

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