Time to stop the global land rush

Posted by Kate Geary Policy Adviser, Land and Private Sector

4th Oct 2012

Bulldozers destroying homes to clear the land in the Polochic Valley. Guatemala. March 2011. Credit: Oxfam
As banks and private investors scramble to buy land in the developing world, vulnerable people are losing their homes and livelihoods. Oxfam's Kate Geary explains how and why the World Bank can take a stance to stop this.


As banks and private investors scramble to buy land in the developing world, vulnerable people are losing their homes and livelihoods. On the launch of Oxfam's new Briefing Our Land Our Lives Oxfam's Kate Geary explains how and why the World Bank can take a stance to stop this.

GET OUT. 

You've got two minutes to get your things and get out. Stop crying. There's nothing you can do. Say goodbye to your home. It's gone.

Sadly, this is too often the reality for poor farmers in developing countries who face eviction to make way for foreign land deals. Stories of communities driven from their homes, often at the barrel of a gun, left destitute and unable to feed their families have become all too familiar. 

The global rush for land is out of control and it is poor farmers who are paying the price. In the past decade an area of land eight times the size of the UK has been sold off globally. In poor countries, foreign investors have been buying an area of land twice the size of Mexico City every five days. 

This scramble for land is happening in developing countries all around the world - though Africa has borne the brunt of it. In Cambodia, an area equivalent to over half of the country's farmland has been transferred to private companies in recent years. More than 30 per cent 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.

"You don't need guns to kill people. When you take food from a village by destroying farm lands and cash crops, you are starving its people."

Local advocate, Alfred Brownell, says:

 "You don't need guns to kill people. When you take food from a village by destroying farm lands and cash crops, you are starving its people. These things must stop. Our people deserve the right to survive. They shouldn't be denied their land."  

When a situation is out of control it's time to put on the brakes. And this is what we are asking the World Bank to do. 

While responsibility for land-grabbing lies with many actors - from governments to private investors - one global actor has more influence than any other to change the terms of the debate. 

The World Bank is a huge player on the global land scene. Its own investments in agriculture have tripled in the last decade: from $2.5bn in 2002 to $6-8bn in 2012.  While such an increase is welcome, it also heightens risks, which must be addressed. In recent years, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank investments that they say have violated their land rights.  

Oxfam's new campaign is focusing on the Bank because it plays a pivotal role in land acquisitions: 

  • As a source of direct financial support for investments in land, such as agribusiness expansion.
  • As a policy adviser to developing country governments, both for land tenure reforms and for improving the investment climate for foreign investors.
  • And as a standard-setter for other investors. 

Our Land, Our Lives Oxfam Briefing

The World Bank could play a key role in stopping the global land rush by freezing its own investments in large-scale land acquisitions for six months and putting its own house in order. 

Oxfam wants the Bank to make land deals more transparent so that investors can be held accountable to affected communities and local governments. We want it to ensure community consent for projects it invests in. We want the bank to play a positive role in promoting land rights and good land governance, for example by throwing its weight behind implementing the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land.  

The need to act now is urgent. The last time food prices spiked in 2008, land deals by foreign investors in poor countries rocketed by around 200 per cent.  With food prices spiralling upwards again, the land rush risks accelerating once more. 

In the coming months many people around the world will be kicked off their land unless action is taken now. With your help we can pressure the World Bank to take that vital first step to reining in the global scramble for land.


Read more

Read all of Oxfam's recent publications on land at www.oxfam.org.uk/landfreeze

Join Oxfam's land campaign


Blog post written by Kate Geary

Policy Adviser, Land and Private Sector

More by Kate Geary

Kate Geary