Photo Gallery The Scramble for African Farmland

Governments and investment funds are buying up farmland in Africa and Asia to grow food -- a profitable business, with a growing global population and rapidly rising prices. The high-stakes game of real-life Monopoly is leading to a modern colonialism to which many poor countries submit out of necessity.
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Food is becoming the new oil. The combination of more people and less land makes food a safe investment, with annual returns of 20 to 30 percent, rare in the current economic climate.

Foto: Corbis
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Many countries are seeking to reduce their dependence on the world market and imports. China is home to 20 percent of the world's population, but it has only 9 percent of the world's arable land.

Foto: AFP
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Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest and most aggressive buyers of land. It spends $800 million a year promoting foreign companies that cultivate "strategic field crops" like rice, wheat, barley and corn, which it then imports.

Foto: Saudi Press Agency / REUTERS
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Rapidly rising food prices caused bread riots in 2008, such as this one in Egypt in March. Then came the economic downturn. Now investors are looking for safe investments, and with increasing populations and rising food princes, farmland is looking increasingly attractive.

Foto: DPA
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African farmland, which is extremely fertile in some regions, is inexpensive on the impoverished continent. Many foreign investors are snapping up the land and some African leaders hope the result will be the development and modernization of their agricultural sectors.

Foto: DPA
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However, the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with a food surplus is South Africa.

Foto: AP
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A sea farming project in Eritrea. Many other African countries have rapidly growing populations and are giving away their most important asset: land. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, warns: "Because the countries in Africa are competing for investors, they are undercutting each other."

Foto: AP
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Erastas Dildo has a small farm in western Kenya. The US agricultural producer Dominion Farms wanted to buy his land but he refused their offer. He says that the company is using the dam it built nearby to force him out. Last year when he tried to harvest his corn it was under water.

Foto: Horand Knaup / DER SPIEGEL
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A cotton farmer in Burkino Faso. To boost harvests and achieve annual returns of 20 percent or more, foreign landowners must operate their farms on an industrial scale. When the soil becomes depleted after a few years, many investors simply move on. Land is so cheap that they are not forced to value sustainable farming practices.

Foto: AFP