Land grab

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

5 October 2012

International land speculators and biofuel producers have taken over land around the world capable of feeding nearly a billion people, according to the charity Oxfam. The land is either left idle till its value increases or used to grow biofuels for vehicle propulsion in the US or Europe.

In a report published on 4 October 2012 and extensively covered in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Oxfam says the global land rush is out of control.  It calls on the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop land grabs.

According to the report, “more than 60% of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. But two-thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60% of the deals have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.”

Very few, if any, of these land investments benefit local people or help fight hunger, says Oxfam. “Instead, the land is either being left idle, as speculators wait for its value to increase … or it is predominantly used to grow crops for export, often for use as biofuels.”

The bank is said to have tripled its support for land projects to $6bn-$8bn (£3.7bn-£5bn) a year in the last decade.

Since 2008, according to Oxfam, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities claiming that World Bank investments have violated their land rights.

Oxfam’s chief executive, Barbara Stocking, said: “The rush for land is out of control and some of the world’s poorest people are suffering hunger, violence and greater poverty as a result. The World Bank is in a unique position to help stop land grabs becoming one of the biggest scandals of the century.”

She added: “Investment should be good news for developing countries – not lead to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.”

According to the International Land Coalition, 106 million hectares (261 million acres) of land in developing countries were acquired by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010, sometimes with disastrous results.

Nearly 30% of Liberia has reportedly been handed out in large-scale concessions in the past five years, and up to 63% of all arable land in Cambodia is said to have been passed over to private companies.

Oxfam dismisses the claim made by the World Bank and others that lots of available land is unused and waiting for development. “It is simply a myth. Most agricultural land deals target quality farmland, particularly land that is irrigated and offers good access to markets. It is clear that much of this land was already being used for small-scale farming, pastoralism and other types of natural resource use.”

A 2010 study by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) – the World Bank’s official monitoring and evaluation body – stated that about 30% of bank projects involved involuntary resettlement. The IEG estimated that at any one time, more than 1 million people are affected by involuntary resettlement in active World Bank-financed projects.

Oxfam called for a reversal of EU biofuel targets.

In a statement to the Guardian in connection with the Oxfam report, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private lending arm, said: “IFC does not finance land acquisitions for speculative purposes. We invest in productive agricultural and forestry enterprises that can be land intensive to help provide the food and fibre the world needs. …

“Competition for scarce land resources has spurred rising investment in land. This competition can fuel conflict with existing users. Inevitably, bank group involvement in forestry and agriculture is not without risk, particularly given the fact we are operating in imperfect governance environments….”

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  You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question(3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices(2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012)

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat(31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

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