Blog, Resources

What Is Land Grabbing?

In the United States, nearly 40 acres of farmland is lost every single hour of the day. The story isn’t any different in other parts of the world. In developing countries, the rush to buy farmland is even more intense. Every second, land the size of a football field is lost to private investors and banks in poor countries. As foreign investors continue to swallow up huge tracts of land, it’s the local communities that suffer the most.

But to truly understand the threat of land grabbing, you need to understand what it is.

What is Land Grabbing?

The term “land grabbing” is exactly what it sounds like: the large-scale acquisition of land. In this case, the acquirer or the land is typically a private investor or agribusiness. These entities purchase farmland, and lease it on a long-term basis for the purpose of producing agricultural commodities.

Oftentimes, these investors operate in what they call “legal grey areas.” Some of these questionable deals are called “land grabs.” These deals happen without the informed consent of communities. Sadly, the end result is often farmers being forced off their land and homes. Families are often left hungry.

What Caused the Spike in Land Grabbing?

In 2008, a spike in food prices prompted a rush in land deals. While the land was designated for farming, the crops grown on the land involved in these deals is rarely used to feed the locals.

Instead, investors are snatching up large tracts of land to grow profitable crops, like palm oil, soy and sugarcane. And in many cases, these crops are exported out of the country.

More than 60% of the crops grown on land purchased by foreign investors in developing countries is designated for export. As a result, the local communities suffer, leaving them hungry. To make matters worse, two-thirds of these deals take place in countries that have serious hunger issues.

How is Land Grabbing Affecting Local Communities?

Isn’t it a good thing to invest in farmland?

At first, it may seem as if the purchase of land for the purpose of farming (rather than development) would be a good thing. And it can be. However, in the case of land grabbing, many families lose the land they use to grow food for their families.

In one swoop, families lose their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods in these scrupulous deals. And in some tragic cases, land is taken from communities and families in a violent way – all in the name of profit. Families are helpless and have zero recourse in many cases.

With a rising population and a spike in food costs, land grabbing is a practice that will likely continue for the foreseeable future unless action is taken on the government level.

One would assume that buying farmland for the purpose of growing crops would be beneficial for the world’s developing countries, where hunger can be a major issue. However, investors are buying these tracts of land with the intention of exporting the crops to rich nations, making the hunger problem even worse. Crops not designated for consumption are used to meet the biofuel targets of developed nations.

Blog, Resources

What Effect Does Land Grabbing Have On Local People?

Land grabbing has grown in popularity. A growing population has led to agriculture growing as an even bigger business. There will always be a demand for food, and this has led to the rich and big businesses taking control of rural communities.

The earnings are high, and the repayment period on the initial investment is just seven years at most.

Some people assume that big companies putting money into poorer countries and building new facilities with better construction methods such as agricutlural steel framed buildings, would result in the surrounding area benefitting, however land grabbing has a negative impact on the local people in almost all cases.

Theft and Pillaging

Land grabbing occurs in countries, such as Malaysia and Cambodia, where the residents are often poor. In the documentary, “Land Grabbing,” it was found that over 1,000 people in a village were evicted violently.

During the land grab, the profiteer burned down many of the residents’ houses.

In Africa, there is a huge business in agriculture, and they’re not afraid to steal farm land from the locals. Some, even the elderly, have their land taken from them as the local governments cooperate with corporations that become filthy rich in the process.

Politicians often own the companies involved in land grabs.

In Cambodia, for example, there is a major uptick in land grabbing due to the “Everything but Arms Treaty” that was signed with the European Union. Under the treaty, Cambodia can export sugar duty free.

Workers Are Degraded

Locals are often forced to work for the companies that steal their land. When this happens, many of the locals are forced to work long hours, and they’re degraded with an inspection when their shift comes to an end to ensure they haven’t stolen any crops during the day.

Some plantations also make workers recite a pledge daily.

These pledges are used to “brainwash” the employees to act in a certain way. For example, the pledge may state “I’m ashamed of myself when I make a mistake.”

Not All Land Grabs Are Violent

Some land grabs occur over a long period of time, or companies will form contracts with locals. These non-violent grabs do benefit some locals, but there are hidden concerns that often go overlooked.

Addax Bioenergy, operating in Africa, took over land without villagers understanding what would happen.

Many land owners didn’t understand what a hectacre was, or how much land was involved. The biggest concern is the chemical runoff that has seeped into the water supply.

Chemicals sprayed on the sugar cane are starting to run into the local water supply, and without Addax drilling a well for safe water, villagers fear that they’ll die as a result. Many animals have eaten the foliage near the sugarcane fields and died due to the harsh chemicals used.

If the companies took it upon them to invest in developing the local area and improving the local facilities ensuring the locals have water, shelter and food this would be a step in the right direction. There are a few examples where this has been the case and one development even had some of the best electric showers fitted in facilities for the local community. However in most cases, there is no development of better facilities for locals – even when land grabs are renting the land rather than mere takeover. One of the biggest ongoing concerns is that water supplies are often granted to these major companies.

In 2016, when drought hit Africa, many local communities saw their drinking water diminish to near nothing.

The issue is that the corporations were granted the rights to the local water supply, and these companies used all of the water to ensure their crops persisted even though locals suffered. Locals, in the vast majority of cases, are worse off following land grabs even when the land is rented or sold off over a longer duration.

Blog, Resources

What Can Be Done to Prevent the Adverse Effects of Land Grabbing?

In developing countries, land grabbing has left families without homes and local populations without reliable sources of food. What was once farmland used to feed small villages and families has transformed into large-scale, foreign-owned agricultural operations that feed rich nations.

What can be done to prevent the negative effects of land grabbing? This is an issue that has been widely discussed by activists, researchers and policymakers who have taken an interest in transitional and global forms of land governance.

How Can We Prevent the Adverse Effects of Land Grabbing?

In recent years, two major projects have sought to address the serious issue of land grabbing through the proposed implementation of global land governance. The two projects, Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, are significant because they call for global or transnational rules of land governance, which have never existed before.

We know from experience that global and transnational governance of certain fields, such as labor, the environment and human rights, can have significant influence on the local level. This influence can affect future and present policies that may encourage the practice of land grabbing while curbing or limiting its extreme excesses.

Of course, this is not to say that global governance would be superior to national or local rules, but rather serves as a piece of the puzzle. It is also a matter that needs to be explored and better understood.

Naturally, there are unanswered questions that still stand in the way of implementing global land governance. Who can participate in the creation and negotiation of the rules? Who and how will they be enforced? Will the process achieve its intended outcome? Are there any potentially unforeseen consequences? These are important questions when considering global solutions for land grabbing.

Global land governance is such a new idea that scholars still have more questions than answers at this point. Two things we do know for certain is that the solution cannot come in the form of an international treaty, nor can there be an institution that governs “land grabs.” Over the last two decades, there has been a shift from a binding international law to differentiated forms of government, including public and private arrangements. Lessons can be learned by taking a look at what has and has not worked for in other fields of global governance.

It is also important to consider that land tenure and agricultural investment is also influenced by other governance fields, such as bilateral trade agreements and environmental programs. The REDD + (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and bilateral investment treaties may facilitate land grabs in a variety of ways.

Other research shows that global governance is often effective not because of a single institution, but rather a series of institutions that may or may not be linked together.

While there will likely be no single perfect solution to land grabbing, global governance may be a step in the right direction. The key difficulty will be determining how to create and implement these rules.