‘Land Grab: the purchase or lease of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors in order to produce crops for export.' – The Oakland Institute
The acquisition of lands in developing countries particularly in Africa but also in South America, Central and Southeast Asia has in recent times become worrisome.
The 2008 surge in oil prices which led to food shortages and consequently volatile prices in food forced vulnerable developing countries to seek foreign investments. This resulted in renewed interests in the agriculture sector by western investors and eventually to intense land acquisitions or land grab depending on who you speak to.
Thus, what started as a measure to control food prices and produce more food has turned into something of a nightmare for rural farmers and residents. They have not only lost their means of food security and livelihoods but in many instances have been forced from their ancestral homes – land is big deal in Africa as it gets passed on from one generation to the next.
We should of course not ignore the role foreign investment can play in reforming agricultural practices, stimulating economic growth and increasing global food availability. However, often it’s at the detriment of those whose voices cannot be heard because they are poor, particularly when their government or local private investors are unconscientiously handing their birth right – their culture- to foreign investors who may or may not value the role land plays in their culture. Something’s not right and measures must be put in place to ensure peoples’ rights are not being trampled upon.
A 2010 report by the observer revealed that in Ethiopia, for instance, hectares of land are being leased to rich businessmen whose sole aim is to cultivate these lands and export the produce to their countries. The report went on to question the Ethiopian governments’ sensibility – in a country with over 2 million hungry people, how can its government justify giving choice lands to rich foreign investors and countries who grow foods to feed their own populations?
According to Oxfam, large parcels of land the size of West Europe – about 227 million hectares in total – have been leased, sold or licensed in Africa to foreign investors since 2001. Although these lands are claimed by governments and others to be for growing more food for the poor and for biofuel production, Oxfam obviously isn’t fooled as the organisation found that several of the land transactions are actually land grabs. This is primarily because the rights and needs of the ‘little people’, if you will, are not being protected. In many instances these people don’t have a clue what is happening till they’re driven off their lands.
The Oakland Institute revealed in 2011 that the involvement of countries such as China and others in the Middle East in land grabs is being facilitated, knowingly or not, by two international institutions – the International Financial Corporation (IFC) and the Foreign Investment Advisory Service; both sectors of the World Bank Group. The former finances private investment in developing countries and promotes policy reforms to reduce bureaucracies that inhibit foreign investments while the latter improves investment conditions in developing countries so as to enable private investment.
‘The role of these institutions in promoting and facilitating land grabs has received little attention. However, the response of these organisations to the global food crisis is directly related to rapidly growing demand in land markets.’ – Oakland Institute
The report also went further to dismiss the idea being propagated by major players including research institutions, donor governments and international governance agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO ) and other UN agencies that land deals are ‘win-win’ for those involved. Essentially because, excessive focus of potential benefits could mask risks and consequences that may arise, further ensuring that opposing voices are unheard.
The report finally concludes that food security is a very real problem for millions of people in the world – the 1.02 billion people who are chronically hungry.
‘These people are the rural poor, the subsistence farmers—the 1.5 billion small producers who each farm less than 2 hectares of land. These people, who are suffering most, are not the ones benefiting from land market investment.’- Oakland Institute
I think policies and regulations should be put in place and upheld without bias by institutions and other intergovernmental agencies to ensure land acquisition favours all parties involved - the investors, and the developing countries with particular attention paid to rural residents.
Water usage, climate change, environment pollution, land stress, civil unrest and increasing hunger in developing countries are all factors to consider and plan for as donor governments unwittingly lease and/ or sell out lands to foreign investors.
Developing nations particularly those in Africa should realise the potential detrimental effect indiscriminate selling off of land can have in the long term. History should not be allowed to repeat itself; diamond, gold, coal, oil, now land – we cannot allow the trend that has been seen in history to happen again. This is the very reason initiatives such as Fairtrade should be supported and endorsed.