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Peasant Farmers Fight Back Against Land Grabbing

The past few months have seen the issue of land grabbing hit the headlines once again, following the release of several high profile reports condemning the impact of the practice on farmers across the global south. In June 2011 the US based Oakland Institute claimed, in its report The Great Land Grab, that “foreign investors sought or secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland in the developing world between 2006 and the middle of 2009”.

The past few months have seen the issue of land grabbing hit the headlines once again, following the release of several high profile reports condemning the impact of the practice on farmers across the global south. In June 2011 the US based Oakland Institute claimed, in its report The Great Land Grab, that “foreign investors sought or secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland in the developing world between 2006 and the middle of 2009”. The report highlights how Middle Eastern countries are leading the charge, as rising food prices, climate change, poor soils and scarce water reserves have forced them to act to protect their own food security. “The Gulf states have seen their food supply become increasingly uncertain and ever more expensive. Their total food import bill ballooned from $8 billion to $20 billion from 2002 to 2007.”

Oxfam International places the figure even higher. In its September 2010 report Land and Power, it claims that “227 million hectares have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors. Many ofthose deals are in fact ‘land grabs’ where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living”. The comprehensive report focusses on how land rights of indigenous communities are regularly violated by foreign governments who purchase, lease or occupy their land illegally: “The poorest people are being hardest hit as competition for land intensifies. Oxfam’s research has revealed that residents regularly lose out to local elites, and domestic or foreign investors, because they lack the power to claim their rights effectively and to defend and advance their interests.”

A month after the release of Oxfam’s report, more than 350 smallholder farmers and displaced peasants gathered at Nyeleni in southern Mali to share their experiences and struggles with land grabbing. The three-day gathering was organised by the Kolongo Appeal who have raised their profile in organising local resistance to land grabbing across Mrica. The final communique from the conference called for a global alliance against land-grabbing and was clear in where it laid the blame. “The World Bank, IFAD, the FAO and UNCTAD have proposed seven principles that legitimise farmland grabbing by corporate and state investors. Led by some of the world’s largest transnational corporations, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Mrica (AGRA) aims to transform peasant agriculture into industrial agriculture, and integrate smallholder farmers into global value chains, greatly increasing their vulnerability to land-loss.” AGRA claims to be a farmer-led initiative, however it was conceived, developed and implemented without consulting a single farmer-led organisation on the continent. It was recently described by the Food First Institute as “Green Revolution advocates promoting toxic high-tech solutions to a food crisis they invented.”

In 2010 The Land reported how the UN had effectively endorsed land grabbing when the head of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, Kanayo Nwanze stated: “It is wrong to call them land grabs. These are investments in farmland, like investments in oil exploration. We can have win-win situations.” As far as the unanimous voices opposed to land grabs are concerned however, a win-win situation will only be achieved when indigenous rights are respected, land purchases and leases are transparent and subject to international regulation, and governments prioritise national food security before the interests of foreign investors.

www.farmlandgrab.org