Where Is Japan in the Global Land Grab Debate?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:55 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Derek HALL , Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Some of the main explanations of the “global land grab” implicitly suggest that Japan should be close to the center of the phenomenon. Japan, after all, has the world’s third-largest national economy, is extremely dependent on imported food and fuel, is a massive capital exporter, and has multinational corporations with vast international experience. In fact, however, the main land grab inventories show few cases originating in Japan, media coverage of Japan’s role is scanty, and the land grab literature has little to say about the country. This paper seeks to explain both why direct Japanese investment in overseas land might be limited and why whatever land grab-related activity Japanese actors are engaged in might go relatively unremarked. I argue that 1) the international experience of Japanese multinationals has predisposed them to avoid large-scale overseas land acquisitions; 2) the Japanese government is prioritizing and supporting forms of international agricultural investment other than direct land acquisition by Japanese actors; 3) the avoidance of sub-Saharan Africa by private and public Japanese actors (with the major exception of the ProSAVANA project in Mozambique) lowers the visibility of Japan’s actions; and 4) more generally, that little attention is paid to Japan in broader discussions of world politics. I also suggest that Japan’s experience shows that there is much more to “land grabbing” than land, and that the literature needs to pay more attention to areas like investments in agriculture-related infrastructure, control over shipping, and technology transfer where the Japanese role has been quite prominent.