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Mr Medved

What are the future challenges to our food system?

2 posts in this topic

This recent offering from "Crikey" is a bit of a concern, and perhaps a future challenge.

3. Foreign ownership of Aussie land: the peril of selling the farm

Crikey journalist Tom Cowie writes:

With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion later this year -- and 10 billion by the end of the century -- top quality agricultural land has never been more valuable.

Perhaps it’s with an eye for a good investment opportunity or, as some concerned observers believe, to protect against any potential future food shortages, but government-backed companies have begun buying up farmland around the world, with Australia’s vast tracts of top quality primary production land a prime target.

Qatar-based Hassad Foods has been a major player in the big local farmland buy-up. Backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, the company has invested more than $60 million in prime Australian sheep grazing land in the past year, with more properties in the company's sights. As well as prized Kaladbro Estate in western Victoria and Queensland's Clover Downs, Hassad's burgeoning portfolio also includes 6800 hectares of sheep grazing land in Canowindra in New South Wales.

And they're continuing to look to add to their string of acquisitions. Last week The Weekly Times reported Hassad were poised to snap up a further 8500 hectares of land in Victoria's western district in a deal worth $35 million -- about 20% above market price.

Meanwhile, China state-owned conglomerate Bright Foods has also been hungrily looking to acquire local agribusinesses because of the favourable local environment for overseas investors. The Shanghai-controlled company have reported to be interested in Foster's wine division, while last year they made a failed $1.7 billion tilt for sugar producer CSR. The company has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the NSW government to explore local wine, diary and sugar investment opportunities.

In the south-east of Australia, Brazilian beef giant JBS has been busy buying up abattoirs and meatworks, while Singapore-based Olam International now control almost 45% of Australian almonds -- thanks to its purchase of Timbercorp and its 8096-hectare plantation.

Crikey has begun mapping the recent purchases of prime Australian farmland by overseas interests

She says there have been many recent instances, including the sale of over 100,000 hectares of farmland in Western Australia to the Arab States, which show the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and the ACCC are not looking after Australia's long term security interests.

"When countries buy our land it raises issues of sovereign risk, and in our grab for cash we lose the intellectual property of generations of Australian farmers," she told Crikey. "We cannot guarantee the food grown on this land will stay in Australia or that the profits from exports will be here."

Dick Smith agrees, but doesn't think any political party will do anything about because of the economic advantages of foreign investment: "I think we should just say any land that produces food should not be sold to overseas interests," he said. "To end up with large amounts of foreign ownership of farm land when there will undoubtedly be food shortages is unsustainable."

*Additional research by Crikey intern Iona Salter

**Are you a farmer who has recently been propositioned by an overseas conglomerate? Or have you already sold the farm? You can email us with your story at boss@crikey.com.au or alternatively via our anonymous tip offs section.

There are many ways to skin a cat.

There are many ways to control foreign land it seems. Not all of them involve military intervention.

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