Oxfam warns of spiralling land grab in developing countries

Oct 10, 2011 12:00 AM

The scale of the rush by speculators, pension funds and global agri-businesses to acquire large areas of developing countries is far greater than previously thought, and is already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses, says Oxfam.
The NGO has identified 227 mm hectares (561 mm acres) of land -- an area the size of north-west Europe -- as having been reportedly sold, leased or licensed, largely in Africa and mostly to international investors in thousands of secretive deals since 2001. This compares with about 56 mm ha identified by the World Bank earlier this year, again predominantly in Africa.

The new land rush, which was triggered by food riots, a series of harvest failures following major droughts and the western investors moving out of the US property market in 2008, is being justified by governments and speculators in the name of growing food for hungry people and biofuels for environmental benefit.
But, says Oxfam, "many of the deals are in fact 'land grabs' where the rights and needs of the people previously living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living".
"Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive," said Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking.

Oxfam expects the land grabbing to increase as populations grow.
Its report said: "The huge increase in demand for food will need to be met by land resources that are under increasing pressure from climate change, water depletion, and other resource constraints, and squeezed by biofuel production, carbon sequestration and forest conservation, timber production, and non-food crops."

While some investors might claim to have experience in agricultural production, many may only be purchasing land speculatively, anticipating price increases in the coming years, a practice known as 'land banking'.
In addition, developing countries are under pressure from the IMF, the World Bank and other regional banks to put farmland on the international market to increase economic development and improve the balance of payments.

Much of the land grabbing has being driven by the expansion of sugar cane and oil palm for biofuel production.
"Thousands of people have been persuaded to part with their land on the basis of false promises in Indonesia, or have been evicted from their lands and their homes in Uganda, Guatemala and Honduras," says the report.

Most of the land deals done in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique Senegal and Tanzania have been to grow crops for export commodities, including cut flowers as well as biofuels. In Mozambique, where approximately 35 % of households are chronically food insecure, only 32,000 hectares out of the 433,000 approved for land deals between 2007 and 2009 were for food crops.
The report said: "Unrestricted export clauses in contracts, together with small-scale food producers losing their key productive asset, may well worsen rather than improve food security. Moreover, investors' short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation practices, undermining food production in the long-term.”

Stocking called on the EU to scrap the incentive offered to investors to grow biofuel crops, and organisations like the World Bank to ensure that local people are consulted on land deals.
"Governments should avoid pandering to investors' wishes, and prioritise existing land use rights -- not just where legal land title or formal ownership rights are held," said the report.”
Stocking said: "Land investment has great potential to help people work themselves out of poverty, but the current rush for land is leaving people worse off. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profits of a few, and build towards a tomorrow where everyone has enough."

The British charity Oxfam has released a new report detailing the forced eviction of people from forests in Uganda to make way for a British timber company. The Ugandan government denies the allegations, and says the numbers are exaggerated.
Oxfam says that between 2006 and 2010, more than 22,000 people were evicted in the Kiboga and Mubende districts of central Uganda as part of a “land grab” by the New Forests Company.

One of the co-authors of the report, Matt Grainger, says Oxfam became aware last year of concerns about the company's operations in Uganda. The New Forests Company bills itself as being socially and environmentally responsible. It also claims to be the biggest tree planter in Uganda, where it harvests pine and eucalyptus trees, and plants other indigenous species as part of an environmental conservation effort.
Uganda's National Forestry Authority, which ordered the evictions, says Oxfam's numbers are exaggerated.

NFA spokesperson Moses Watara says only 8,000 people were moved from the land, and that for the most part they went peacefully after given four months notice by the police.
Oxfam says land grabbing is a global problem, and reports similar cases in South Sudan, Indonesia and Central America.

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