The truth about land grabs

We all rely on the land—our common ground—and farms to put food on the table. But the world’s farmland is at risk. Here in the US, we have been losing more than an acre of farmland every minute. In developing countries, the rush for land is even more intense.

What's a land grab?

Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home—being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed. For many communities in developing countries, this is a familiar story.

In the past decade, more than 81 million acres of land worldwide—an area the size of Portugal—has been sold off to foreign investors. Some of these deals are what’s known as land grabs: land deals that happen without the free, prior, and informed consent of communities that often result in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry. The term “land grabs” was defined in the Tirana Declaration (2011) by the International Land Coalition, consisting of 116 organizations from community groups to the World Bank.

The global rush for land is leaving people hungry

The 2008 spike in food prices triggered a rush in land deals. While these large-scale land deals are supposedly being struck to grow food, the crops grown on the land rarely feed local people. Instead, the land is used to grow profitable crops—like sugarcane, palm oil, and soy—often for export. In fact, more than 60 percent of crops grown on land bought by foreign investors in developing countries are intended for export, instead of for feeding local communities. Worse still, two-thirds of these agricultural land deals are in countries with serious hunger problems.

Righting the wrong of land grabs

With your help, Oxfam has been campaigning on land grabs as part of our GROW campaign for food justice.

  • People like you successfully pushed the World Bank to commit itself to a new UN standard on how land is governed. This means the World Bank will work to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people have their land rights respected.
  • In 2011, 769 families were forced out of their homes and off their land in Polochic Valley in Guatemala. Their crops and homes were burned. And three people died. Over 100,000 people signed to get the Guatemala Government to declare support for the Polochic communities and, to date, 140 families have had their land returned. The campaign continues.
  • To send a global message about land grabs, thousands of Oxfam supporters and Coldplay fans sent photos and videos of ordinary things out of place, echoing the displacement of land grabs. These clips were edited together into a music video that helped raise the profile of land grabs during the campaign targeting the World Bank.
  • More than 272,000 people joined Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign and called on PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to help stop land grabs, signing petitions, sending messages on social media, and more. In November 2013, Coca-Cola—the world’s largest purchaser of sugar—announced major commitments to respect and protect the land rights of rural and indigenous communities. PepsiCo declared similar commitments in March 2014. Then, in August 2014, Nestlé followed suit with a bold commitment to “zero tolerance” for land grabs in its supply chains. “In plain and simple language, the company has committed to ensure that its ingredients don’t come from land that has been illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly taken from poor people,” wrote Oxfam’s Monique van Zijl.