Land and water are not merely biophysical phenomena but valuable commodities for global financial markets that play a large role effecting the dynamics of political power. Traditionally, whenever I gave this phenomenon thought it always seemed that state actors were the ones with the most to gain politically through policy shifts in regards to land and water usage. However, the readings this blog covers have shown me that private organizations, in fact, utilize land and water as political constructs to comparable effect. This can be seen particularly in the way they influence the usage of these resources via the manner in which they influence the development of economies of scale. This belief was affirmed by Shiva’s piece which stated, “Before Monsanto’s entry to [the Indian] market, local seeds cost farmers between ₨5 and ₨10 per kg…Monsanto ensured a monopoly on cotton seeds in India and priced the seeds at ₨1,600 for a package of 450 gms (₨3555.55 per kg, out of which the royalty component was ₨1,200). ₨3555.55 is approximately 711 times ₨5, the pre-Bt price. The correct percentage increase would be 71,111%” (Shiva). Essentially, they were able to achieve this monopoly through utilizing intellectual property to their advantage through ‘seed replacement’ and licensing agreements. This strategy played a large role in thwarting competitors as any seed that appeared remotely similar would quickly result in an unwinnable lawsuit for any small or medium sized players. Clearly, Monsanto leveraged the manner in which it could develop economies of scale in Indian agricultural land in order to gain economic and political power. Excellent examples of this can also be seen through how American university endowments invest in African land development through hedge funds. “The largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the land is said by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, was negotiated between a Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development and a local co-operative run by absent chiefs. The 49-year lease of 400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000 (£15,000) allows the company to exploit all natural resources including oil and timber. The company, headed by former US Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, says it intends to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of pounds a year in revenues” (Vidal). Clearly, private investments in African land resources are not simply financial instruments but mechanisms of influence to be utilized in dictating the nature of economic development. One can see how this is a political construct due to the fact that poor and corrupt governments are likely to sell out the interests of their own citizens when significant amounts of foreign money are involved. As the example of South Sudan shows, no government that is prepared to sell 9% of public lands to foreign investors will be unlikely to strongly resist their entreaties in regard to political issues. In summary, land and water are not simply biophysical phenomena but political constructs that private organizations actively leverage to their advantage in a most substantial manner.
Shiva, Vandana. “Seeds of Truth.” Dr Vandana Shiva, 26 Aug. 2014, vandanashiva.com/?p=105.
Vidal, John, and Claire Provost. “US Universities in Africa ‘Land Grab’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 June 2011, www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jun/08/us-universities-africa-land-grab.