Since 2008, the term “land grabbing” gained notoriety around the globe. It refers to large-scale land acquisitions mainly by private investors but also by public investors and agribusiness that buy farmland or lease it on a long-term basis to produce agricultural commodities. These international investors, as well as the public, semi-public or private sellers, often operate in legal grey areas and in a no man’s land between traditional land rights and modern forms of property. In many cases of land grabbing, one could speak of a land reform from above, or of the establishment of new colonial relationships imposed by the private sector.
The IAASTD covers the problem of unfair distribution of land, which has existed for many centuries, as well as approaches to agrarian reforms and communal land use. Its key message is simple: Secure land tenure, property rights and other forms of common ownership, including access to water, are an essential prerequisite for family farms to invest in their own future. They provide the basis for all forms of sustainable development and land cultivation."Large inequities in the tenure and access to land and water have exacerbated economic inequalities that still characterized many world regions in the world. Land reform, including improved tenure systems and equitable access to water are suggestive means to support sustainable management and simultaneously respond to social inequalities that inhibit economic development.“ (Synthesis, p. 32) There is hardly any other economic sector with so little transparency as in the area of land ownership. Even in times of Google Maps, a global land register is still a long way off. History often plays a key role: Past social and economic systems, ideologies, tribal rights and gender privileges, as well as scars of war and displacement, remain visible. The power over land registers is still today not granted by courts in all parts of the world but often seized violently by both private and public actors."The complex social and political contradictions of colonial and post-independence land policies have increasingly derogated the land rights of the poor, fuelling popular demands for land reforms.“ (Sub-Saharan Africa, p.17)
Facts & Figures
Only 8% of the agricultural projects listed by the Land Matrix in November 2016 (total area 40.5 million hectares) were exclusively destined for food production. 37% of the area was intended for non-food crops and 15% for the cultivation of flex-crops that can be used for biofuels and animal feed, as well as food. The remaining land was intended for the cultivation of different crops at the same time.
Since the year 2000, foreign investors have acquired 26.7 million hectares of land around the globe for agriculture, according to a Land Matrix report that covers 1,004 concluded agricultural deals. Africa accounts for 42% of the deals, and 10 million hectares of land. Land acquisitions are concentrated along important rivers such as the Niger and the Senegal rivers, and in East Africa.
Land investors appear to be targeting countries with poor governance in order to maximise profit and minimise red tape. Analysis by Oxfam shows that over three quarters of the 56 countries where land deals were agreed between 2000 and 2011 scored below average on four World Bank governance indicators: Voice and Accountability, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law and Control of Corruption.
A study of the economic impact of land grabbing on rural livelihoods estimates that the total income loss for local communities is $34 billion worldwide, a number comparable to the $35 billion loaned by the World Bank for development and aid in 2012. The study looked at the 28 countries most targeted by large-scale land acquisitions and used data from the Land Matrix database.
Land ownership in Europe has become highly unequal, in some countries reaching proportions similar to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – all notorious for their unequal distribution of land and land-based wealth. While in the EU there are some 12 million farms, the large farms (100 hectares and above), representing just 3% of the total number of farms, control 50% of all farmed land.
Indigenous Peoples and local communities – a population of about 1.5 billion – lack legal rights to almost three quarters of their traditional lands, despite claiming or having customary use of up to 65% of the world’s land area. Globally, only 18% of land is formally recognised as either owned by or designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Behind the current scramble for land is a worldwide struggle for control over access to water. In recent years, Saudi Arabian companies have acquired millions of hectares of land overseas to produce food to ship back home. The country does not lack land for food production; what’s missing is water for irrigation.