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May-June 2011

Vol. 36, No. 3


Land grabbing undercuts food sovereignty

Between 2007 and 2010, foreign interests sought or acquired a total of 2.64 million hectares of land (26,400 km2) in Southern Sudan for the agriculture, forestry and bio-fuel sectors alone. That is a larger land area than the entire country of Rwanda.

"If one adds domestic investments, some of which date back to the pre-war period, and investments in tourism and conservation, the figure rises to 5.74 million hectares (57,400 km2) or nine percent of Southern Sudan's total land area. While in theory, this influx of investment could provide development opportunities for rural communities, without the appropriate procedures in place there is a danger that it will serve to undermine livelihoods." ("Land-grabbing Links," German Church Development Service, March 30, 2011 )

From April 18-20, the annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty was held in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to operationalize a framework called Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI). Formulated by the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), RAI consists of seven principles which investors abide by or not when conducting large-scale farmland acquisitions.

A statement released on April 17 by Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Global Campaign on Agrarian Reform, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, Land Research Action Network, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos and World Forum of Fisher Peoples calls instead for an outright ban on land grabbing.

According to Henry Saragih from La Via Campesina, "The food price crisis happened because of the commoditization of food. RAI will legitimize land grabbing worse than in the colonial era."

"Large-scale land acquisitions are designed to open up new spaces for export oriented, industrial, plantation agriculture" said Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN. "There is no point in sanctioning that through any set of investor 'principles' or code of conduct. This is not an agriculture that feeds people in a just and sustainable way."

Accounts pouring in from Asia, Africa and Latin America reveal that local communities are being dispossessed as never before of their sole sources of food and livelihood security. Reports indicate that at least 50 million hectares of good agricultural land – enough to feed 50 million families in India – have been transferred from farmers to corporations in the last few years alone. Investment brokers estimate that US$25 billion have already been committed globally, and boast that this figure will triple in a very near future. RAI will offer such large-scale land deals a cloak of respectability.

"RAI is dangerously deceptive" said Shalmali Guttal from Focus on the Global South. "Corporations and governments will win, but local communities, eco-systems and future generations will lose; the takeover of rural people's lands is completely unacceptable no matter what guidelines are followed."

"Forced evictions, the foreclosure of vast stretches of land for current and future use by rural peoples, the introduction of models of land use and agriculture that destroy natural environments, the blatant denial of information, and the prevention of meaningful local participation in political decisions that affect people's lives are all human rights violations," stated Sofía Monsalve from FIAN International.

"The new wave of land grabbing will have a devastating effect in the Amazon and Cerrado by giving the green light for illegal activities of large cattle ranchers, agribusinesses, mining and lumber companies to destroy protected forests and biodiversity in food production by small farmers and indigenous land," said Maria Luisa Mendonça, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, Brazil.

According to Ibrahim Coulibaly from the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations in Mali, member of La Via Campesina, "Land grabbing is state banditry; it's about seizing or taking over the only resource that poor people have left and giving it those who already have too much, those who are already extremely rich. And that is not acceptable."

The statement calls instead for a renewed focus on genuine agrarian reform and agricultural investment that supports small-holder farmers to produce on their own lands through agro-ecological means.

The statement can be found online in English, French and Spanish here.

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