OK, not exactly. Firstly, it isn’t the entire island (just half the country’s arable land), and secondly, they aren’t even buying it — they’re getting it for free!

From the Financial Times:

Daewoo Logistics of South Korea has secured farmland in Madagascar to grow food crops for Seoul, in a deal that diplomats and consultants said was the largest of its kind.

The company said it had leased 1.3m hectares of farmland – about half the size of Belgium – from Madagascar’s government for 99 years. It plans to ship the maize and palm oil harvests back to South Korea. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation warned this year that the race by some countries to secure farmland overseas risked creating a “neo-colonial” system. Those fears could be increased by the fact that Daewoo’s farm in Madagascar represents about half the African country’s arable land, according to estimates by the US government.


But more:

Daewoo Logistics of South Korea said it expected to pay nothing to farm maize and palm oil in an area of Madagascar half the size of Belgium, increasing concerns about the largest farmland investment of this kind.

The Indian Ocean island will simply gain employment opportunities from Daewoo’s 99-year lease of 1.3m hectares, officials at the company said. They emphasised that the aim of the investment was to boost Seoul’s food security.

Double wow.

Even the FT is crying neo-colonialism:

Pirates are not the only source of concern off the African coast. The deal South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics is negotiating with the Madagascan government looks rapacious. Alas, it is but the latest brazen example of a wider phenomenon. In the name of food or energy security, cash-rich states are seeking to buy up natural resources in poor countries. While foreign capital and technology should be welcomed by countries with surplus resources, the terms and scale of the present deal raise serious questions.

Any agreement must ultimately be in the interest of the local population. The Madagascan case looks positively neo-colonial. If the deal is sealed with the vague promises by Daewoo Logistics being mooted, the Madagascan people stand to lose half of their arable land.

Somewhere, a Lone Star executive is staring at his computer monitor in disbelief.

On a positive note, I thought I’d never see the day when my African Studies background could actually become marketable in Korea. So what about it, Daewoo — if he can convert it into a house in Seongbuk-dong, Bwana Marmot is ready to plunder some hapless East African country when you are.

(HT to reader)

UPDATE: An observation from mjw:

Definitely smacks of neo-colonialism. But I’d have to say that reading a piece written from London which bitches about the colonial tendencies of a nouveau-riche Asian country is, if you will, a bit rich. Perhaps they’re a mite jealous that the white man’s burden has turned yellow.