Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Environment: Millions of people's livelihoods being destroyed by land grabbing

By Jaspal Singh
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BRASILIA (IDN) – In their Brasilia declaration of April 15, the leaders of IBSA comprising India, Brazil and South Africa do refer to the “social dimensions of globalization” but refrain from revealing their thinking on land grabbing.

Though, precisely that is a critical issue in the context of strengthening “social policies and to fight hunger and poverty, especially in times of global economic crisis”, as IBSA leaders point out.

Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) warned April 27 that voluntary principles on land acquisitions announced by the World Bank and supported by the UN will legitimize and promote land grabbing in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The warning was issued as the World Bank released at an April 26-27, 2010 Washington meeting its voluntary principles to protect rights, livelihoods and resources during large scale land acquisitions by foreign investors in these continents.

These principles have been supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Fund for Agricultural Development .

Millions of people's livelihoods are being destroyed by land grabbing, especially those of peasant farmers, indigenous peoples and fisherfolk. Land grabbing takes place when states and the private sector buy up millions of hectares of land in Asia, Africa and Latin America to produce food and fuel mainly for export.

Land grabbing is proven to further marginalize small food producers, and local communities who already make up the largest part of the 1 billion people suffering most from hunger and poverty.

The World Bank claims that these acquisitions will promote agricultural investment. In reality they will further entrench corporate agriculture for profit and destroy local livelihoods.

But FoEI counters: “Despite years of declining investment in peasant agriculture and the promotion of free trade policies that prioritise industrial agriculture instead, most of the world is still fed by small scale agriculture. Land grabbing undermines small scale agriculture, which jeopardizes ability to feed the world now and in the future.”

In fact, large scale corporate agriculture is one of the leading causes of environmental damage, responsible for about half of all global greenhouse gas emissions, habitat destruction from land clearance and huge use of fossil fuels and natural resources.

The focus of industrial agriculture on producing commodities such as animal feeds and agrofuels for export to rich countries rather than food for local populations means it has led to widespread inequality and malnutrition, informs FoEI.


“Industrial production of soy, meat and agrofuels in South America means land grabbing is already taking place,” according to Friends of the Earth Uruguay Director Karin Nansen. “Local communities are violently evicted from their land while agribusiness report record profits by taking control of local resources. More grabbing of farmland will intensify this violence against people’s sovereignty and also condemn us to ever rising deforestation and climate emissions.”

FoEI Chair Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria points to the double speak in the stance of the United Nations: “The UN has shown that the best way to feed our population is through existing, peasant based ecological agriculture. Yet the World Bank and UN agencies support principles which legitimize a new form of colonialism with grave dangers for millions of local livelihoods and the environment.”

Bassey rightly emphasizes: “If the UN is serious about ending hunger then it must heed its own advice, stop the advance of agribusiness in Africa and implement food sovereignty immediately.”

Friends of the Earth International is demanding an end to all forms of land grabbing, which governments and international institutions can achieve by :

- Equitable access to land and natural resources - keeping land in the hands of local communities and implementing genuine agrarian reform.

- Supporting agro-ecological peasant, smallholder farming, fishing and pastoralism, including participatory research and training programmes so that small-scale food providers can produce ample, healthy and safe food for everybody.

- Overhauling farm and trade policies to embrace food sovereignty and supporting local and regional markets.

- Promoting community-oriented food and farming systems hinged on local people's control over land, water and biodiversity.

- Enforce strict mandatory regulations that curb the access of corporations and other powerful actors (state and private) to agricultural, coastal and grazing lands, forests, and wetlands.

- Halting the expansion of industrial corporate led agriculture and ensure food sovereignty - peoples’ right to control their own seeds, lands, water and food production through just and ecological systems; which ensures enough, diverse, nutritious, locally produced and culturally appropriate food for all.

FoEI’s views are backed by Oakland Institute's new report, ‘(Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation in the Global Land Grab’, which exposes the role of the Bank's private sector branch, International Finance Corporation (IFC), in fueling land grabs, especially in Africa.

"Land grabs - the purchase or lease of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors - has led to the acquisition of nearly 50 million hectares of farmland," writes Shepard Daniel, Oakland Institute's Fellow and author of the report.

"While rising food prices, demand for biofuels, and investors seeking quick returns have been emphasized as the principal drivers of this trend, the role of the World Bank has gone virtually unnoticed. (Mis)advice from IFC's Technical Assistance and Advisory Services (TAAS) and Foreign Investment Advisory Services (FIAS) to developing country governments to spur foreign direct investment in agriculture has fueled the dangerous trend of vast land deals in some of the world's most vulnerable countries," says.

"Following the 2008 food and financial crises, World Bank was to play a central role in what was intended to be a massive overhaul in international food policy and a vast improvement to food security in the developing world," Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, points out.

"Evidence, however, reveals that World Bank Group policies and efforts are doing just the opposite. IFC has actually increased the ability of foreign investors to acquire land in developing country markets. It is promoting "products" - such as the 'Access to Land' and the 'Land Market for Investment' whose purpose is to open land access to investors. Further more the creation of "investment promotion agencies" and rewriting of national laws, has provided the institutional back up for such investments. In doing so, it has overlooked the urgent problem of hunger that persists in client countries, and lost sight of its principle mission, which is to alleviate poverty," she continued.

For instance, in Ethiopia, IFC's recommended changes to policy and legislature have completely transformed the landscape of Ethiopian investment climate. Accordingly, huge investments in land market have followed.

"Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people in need of food aid," said Daniel, "but paradoxically the government has already offered at least 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food back to their own countries."

(Mis)Investment in Agriculture concludes that the promotion of investor access into developing country land markets threatens local food security, displaces local populations, and therefore operates in direct violation of IFC's Performance Standards as well as several UN Human Rights Conventions.

The Report contends that it is crucial that IFC be investigated and held accountable for the land grabs promoted by its technical assistance and advisory services. World Bank's current practices that promote land grabs must be stopped in order to protect the food security and livelihoods of the world's most vulnerable populations.

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Putting principles before profits