Many may miss an important article in the Bangkok Post yesterday on Khun Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the liquor king [bp-article.pdf]. We knew he acquired a lot of urban land in the 1997 crisis because he was one of the few people with cashflow when others were desperate to sell assets in order to stay afloat. He is now one of the biggest urban land owners and developers. We had no idea of his rural holdings. According to this article, he has ‘more than 100,000 rai of land in 54 provinces’ in Thailand, plus plantation projects covering at least 120,000 rai in Cambodia, plus projects in Laos and Vietnam. Much of the land is under plantations of rubber, sugarcane, oil palm, and tapioca.

Charoen is a long-term strategist. Many other urban entrepreneurs might have been wary about acquiring so much agricultural land, but Charoen was probably betting on the agri-price upswing which we are now seeing because of China’s growth and the energy crunch.

Is Charoen an isolated phenomenon, or is he the biggest example of a wider trend? Has there been a more general concentration of land ownership as a result of bankruptcies from the 1997 crisis – maybe not in such huge holdings, but a concentration all the same? How can we find out?