Have you heard about the phenomenon called ‘land-grabbing’? Multinational corporations and nations are buying up land in foreign countries for them to use – a lot of land. Consider this:
- In the past 10 years an area the size of Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda put together – or 47 times the area of Denmark – has been sold off globally as land sales rapidly accelerate – that’s a total of 203 million hectares.
- This land would be able “to feed a billion people, equivalent to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night.” But instead “about two-thirds of foreign land investors in developing countries intend to export everything they produce on the land.”
These are just some of the facts according to a recent report by Oxfam with the subtitle ‘Time out on the global land rush’.
Oxfam emphasizes that local farmers’ rights end up being abused; government officials might pocket enormous rents; the costs to societies are considerable; and food insecurity rises – much the same conclusions as in an earlier report, ‘Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa’, from Oakland Institute. Somehow we’ve seen it all before. But isn’t part of the solution already available? – I’ll answer this in the end of the blogpost.
Who is Oxfam?
Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in more than 90 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty – as stated on their own website. Oxfam works directly with communities and seek to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.
Bad deals and (deliberately) ‘inexpert’ negotiators
Land acquisitions are not necessarily unfair, but consider the following case: “In Papua New Guinea […] the Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) programme has granted leases of up to 99 years to mostly foreign corporations across 5.1 million ha of community lands. That seems a bit extreme, don’t you think?
The above case also reminds me of an article from Pambazuka News back in 2007 called ‘Slavery ain’t dead, it’s manufactured in Liberia’s rubber‘, in which it states that “Firestone has been playing the chess pieces of Liberia’s rubber slaves since the company signed a concession agreement with the Liberian government in 1926 to lease one million acres of land for six cents per acre—an abominable exchange given the astronomical dividends garnered from rubber sales then and now. In 2005, Liberia’s transitional government signed another concession agreement for an extra 37 years.”
Such agreements might (or might even not) have the potential to earn a profit for the local society here and now, but the tremendous uncertainty attached to agreements for that many years can be devastating to the local government and its people long after the leaders who made the deal, have passed away. It’s my impression that often when someone makes an incredibly good deal, someone else absolutely does not. But what if the costs to the ‘losing party’ does not accrue to the negotiator himself, but rather someone else further down the system?
Bad representation makes bad deals. That is why huge land deals are so enormously dependant on the negotiator. But how many officials in developing country governments would we trust to do this bargaining? Would you trust even your own politicians to make such deals? The leaders of South Korea and Taiwan might have shown that they were worthy of making huge, long-term deals on behalf of those worst off – with their substantial economic development and increased equality over the past decades – but not all heads of state are that good (/lucky).
A new ‘resource curse’?
To me, land-grabbing has many similarities with ‘the resource curse‘, only now, the resource isn’t gold, diamonds or oil, but land. Corrupt, rent-seeking politicians pocket a huge profit from land leases, and the weak part of the population suffer. This must be prevented.
“World Bank and IMF research has shown that most of the land being sold off is in the poorest countries with the weakest protection of people’s land rights.”
The problem therefore, is not land acquisition per se, but the potential of misuse. For instance, studies show that “more than 30 percent of the land in Liberia has been handed out in large-scale concessions in the past five years, often with disastrous results for local people. In Cambodia, NGOs estimate that an area equivalent to between 56 and 63 percent of all arable land in the country has been handed out to private companies.”
Clearly selling off such large proportions of a country’s land – well-knowing how much of the produce might be exported – has the potential of distorting the country’s food security tremendously.
Can land-grabbing be good – are there any positive examples?
I did some quick searching on the web to look for some good-case-scenarios. In the article ‘The Positive Side of Land Grabs in Africa’ (Sep 2011) from africangoodnews.com, Hartmut Sieper co-author of the book ‘Redefining Business in the New Africa’ gives his peace of mind on the subject. However, most of his arguments seem based on the fact that we have to keep allowing land-grabbing to happen to feed the growing population and less on the consequences for poor people: “25 years from now 2 billion more people will have to be fed on our planet earth … More than 60% of the land that is still available for agriculture [in the world] is lying in Africa. And in order to feed everyone on earth, we need to expand agriculture in Africa.” Might this argument be a diversion?
More than 60% of the land that is still available for agriculture [in the world] is lying in Africa
I don’t believe the size of our future population justifies potentially exploiting indigenous, small-scale farmers today. Therefore, I’m still looking for good-case-scenarios. And honestly, I really hope they exist. If you know of any – anecdotal examples or research with more positive conclusions – feel most welcome to comment with a link.
Transparency and promotion of the rights of small-scale farmers
All in all, the Oxfam study’s recommendations are therefore to:
- ensure transparency, with information on land deals made publicly available;
- respect and uphold the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for all affected communities, and where land is acquired, ensuring compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement to affected communities, as appropriate;
- promote land rights and good land governance, including strengthening rather than undermining the rights of small-scale food producers, pastoralists, women and other marginalized groups to the land, natural resources and other productive assets they depend on;
- promote food security and preserve the environment and natural resources.
But what has all this to do with MYC4?
The report states that “Oxfam backs greater investment in agriculture and increased support to small-scale food producers. Responsible investment and support is vital and poor countries desperately need it. … [Oxfam] recognizes the potential benefits of private investment in agriculture; however, all too often, today’s land deals fail to deliver benefits for local individuals and communities. Indeed the claim that lots of ‘available’ land is unused and waiting for development is simply a myth. Most agricultural land deals target quality farmland, particularly land that is irrigated and offers good access to markets.”
MYC4 has to date disbursed more than €2m in 1,800 loans in the Farming & Fishing industry. MYC4 gives the ability to invest directly in the locals instead, not grabbing their land and telling them what to do – we believe in the bottom-up approach. Furthermore, investors can see precisely what’s being invested in, as we agree with Oxfam on the point of transparency. Need I say more?
(If you agree, the Lend-button is right here)