Land sold off in last decade could grow enough food to feed a billion people – Oxfam

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

Land the size of the California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico combined was sold off globally in the last decade, enough to grow food for the one billion people who go hungry today, says a new report, from international relief and development organization Oxfam America.

The Oxfam report, Our Land, Our Lives, shows that land deals tripled during the food price crisis in 2008 and 2009 because land was increasingly viewed as a profitable investment. With global food prices again hovering near record levels, urgent action is needed today to stop the threat of another wave of land grabs.

“An area of land the size of Chicago is being sold to foreign investors every two days in developing countries,” said Paul O’Brien, Vice President of policy and campaigns for Oxfam America. “Tens of thousands of poor people are being kicked off their land, often violently, without consultation or compensation. The World Bank can act today and prevent this from becoming one of the great scandals of the 21st century.”

The report was released a week before the World Bank’s first Annual Meeting since Jim Kim became its new President, and comes as Oxfam steps up its campaign to end land grabs. Oxfam calls on the World Bank to temporarily freeze its agricultural investments in land so it can review its advice to developing countries, help set standards for investors and introduce more robust policies to prevent land-grabs. Since 2008, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by World Bank projects that they say have violated their land rights.

“The World Bank needs to put its house in order,” said O’Brien. “But it is also in a unique position to help solve this crisis both as an investor in land and an adviser to developing countries.”

The Bank’s investments in agriculture have increased by 200 percent in the last 10 years, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, sets standards followed by many investors. The Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. Oxfam supports greater investment in agriculture and to small-scale farmers; however the unprecedented rush for land has not been adequately policed to prevent land grabs.

The report warns that more than 60 percent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. About 60 percent of global land deals in the past decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.

“By implementing a temporary freeze and reviewing its approach, the Bank can set an example to all investors and governments and to help ensure that investors genuinely boost development in some of the poorest communities,” said O’Brien. “Investment should be good news for developing countries, but too often it consigns people to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.”

Oxfam urges Jim Kim to take leadership on this issue at the World Bank’s Annual Meetings in Tokyo on October 12-14 and send a strong signal to global investors to stop land-grabbing and to improve standards. Specifically, Oxfam is calling for:

  • Transparency – ensuring that information about land deals is publicly accessible for both affected communities and governments.
  • Consultation and consent – ensuring communities are informed in advance, and can agree or refuse projects.
  • Land rights and governance – strengthening poor people’s rights to land and natural resources, especially women, through better land tenure governance as set out by the Committee for Food Security.
  • Food security – ensuring that land investments do not undermine local and national food security.

“The World Bank’s mission is tackle global poverty so they have a responsibility to help stop this unbridled rush for land," said O’Brien. “As food prices spike and competition for food and natural resources intensify, land grabs are likely to accelerate. We must take urgent action to ensure that poor people’s rights are protected.”


Notes to editors:
According to the International Land Coalition, 500 million acres of land was acquired in major deals globally between 2000 and 2010.
The same research shows that 260 million acres of land in developing countries was acquired by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010.

For more information see:

For a video introduction to Land Grabs see:

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