Land Grabbing

Only 9% of the agricultural projects listed by the Land Matrix are exclusively destined for food production. The more common objective of land acquisition is the cultivation of biofuels or energy crops for export, fibers, animal feed or traditional cash crops such as coffee, tea and tobacco. A large proportion of land is used to cultivate so-called “flex crops”, which can be used either for food or other purposes, particularly for biofuels.
Large-scale land acquisitions mainly target readily accessible, fertile land, in densely populated areas, cultivated by small-scale farmers. In many cases of land grabbing, securing access to water also plays an important role. Those affected by these land deals commonly receive insufficient compensation and are not consulted or involved in the process. It is also worth noting that large parts of the land acquired are often not used immediately and that the rate of abandoned projects is quite high. The Land Matrix, therefore, differentiates between concluded, intended and failed deals.

Can voluntary guidelines help?

In May 2012, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) of the United Nations officially endorsed the “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security”. They are intended to provide governments, investors and civil society with rules on how to protect, document and administer legitimate rights; how to organize a change of land ownership; how to define public priorities and goals for land use; and how to deal with conflicts. The guidelines define access to land in the context of human rights, demanding gender equality and transparency, the rule of law, respect for different tenure systems and values, early consultation of all people who are likely to be affected and peaceful conflict resolution, as well as both public and private responsibility for sustainability, food production and employment. Most paragraphs start with the words “States should”.

The guidelines are a collection of democratic conditions founded on the rule of law, something that is often not prevailing in the countries ranking high on the list of popular land grabbing destinations. In practice, this collection of principles, suggestions and intentions are only likely to become relevant if the governments that promote or tolerate land grabbing in their countries face consequences if they are not observed, for example, loss of development aid or the suspension of cooperation agreements. They could also become an effective tool if companies that violate the guidelines become subject to sanctions imposed by trading partners, but also by the companies’ countries of origin. Four years after the adoption of the guidelines, examples of such an effective implementation are still missing.

Trade in agricultural commodities creates a global land market

There are several reasons behind the growing interest of international investors in large-scale land deals. Firstly, there is an expanding market for agricultural commodities that can be traded globally and are thus not dependent on the purchasing power of local populations. Secondly, the increasing scarcity of fertile soil is a trend that has not gone unnoticed by investors. Thirdly, most analysts agree that although food prices have once again decreased following the spikes in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011, they will remain above pre-2007 levels. The effects of climate change and weather shocks may increase the level and volatility of food prices. For capital investors in search of investment possibilities, arable land, therefore, is an attractive choice due to a predicted future value increase, even in areas where yields are not ideal in the short term. In Europe, large-scale land acquisitions in countries such as the Ukraine and Romania are considered safe business. This frequently leads to the displacement of family farmers and drives up prices for farmland, making it hard for small-scale and young farmers to obtain land.


  • Land Matrix is an independent land monitoring initiative that collects data on large-scale land acquisitions
  • contains daily news reports about the global rush to buy up or lease farmland
  • Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. FAO, 2012
  • RAI Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems developed by CFS
  • International Land Coalition is a global alliance of organizations, working together to promote secure and equitable access to land for rural people
  • IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) offers news and publications on land acquisitions and rights

Civil Society

  • GRAIN works to support small farmers in their struggles for land
  • FIAN addresses land grabbing from a right to food perspective
  • Oakland Institute is committed to increasing transparency about land deals
  • Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns to stop the drivers of land grabbing
  • Transnational Institute on land and water grabbing
  • Oxfam's Grow campaign also focuses on land grabs
  • La Via Campesina is the international movement of millions of peasants, landless people, women farmers and indigenous peoples
  • Land Rights Now is an international alliance campaign to secure indigenous and community land rights


Videos: Land Grabbing

Oxfam clip: A beginner's guide to land grabs

Seeds of discontent

This film shows what land grabbing means to affected communities in Mozambique


Land Matrix: Global map of investments


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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