A good new update on land grabs

August 12, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

Two very good summaries of the state of play on the spate of ‘land grabs’ which came to prominence last year with Daewoo’s attempts to acquire half of Madagascar (for free) on a 99 year lease (see previous overview and Daewoo blogs ).

A July paper from the International Land Coalition argues that the problem goes beyond food: ‘not only food, but also fuel, fibre, tourism, mining and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration. Expected long-term trends in all of these sectors are promoting investor interest in land that was previously marginal to economic interest… [but] investors are more and more coming into direct competition with local populations.’

The paper summarizes the different publications, initiatives etc on land grabs (the ILC even runs a ‘commercial pressures on land’ blog). Some of its main points:

Virtually no large-scale land allocations can take place without displacing or affecting local populations. In particular, local populations who use the land for non-arable uses such as pastoralism or hunting and gathering are liable to be ignored.

“Land grabbing” implies accumulation of landholdings through illegal and/or illegitimate means. In most cases, however, land allocations do not violate domestic legal systems. Most large-scale land leases are of state land. In addition, significant land purchases by agribusiness companies from small and medium-scale landowners are occurring on privately held land, particularly in transitional countries and in Latin America. Widespread processes of concentration through market mechanisms are resulting in high inequalities of land ownership.

Although foreign investments in land are not a new phenomenon, the current wave can be characterised by:
· The size of land acquisitions, in many cases over 100,000Ha;
· Food and energy security as a key driver, and not necessarily economies of scale from largescale production;
· A severe lack of transparency and low levels of public consultation; and
· The increasing involvement of governments, or government-related agencies, in negotiations.

Foreign investors often act in partnership with domestic investors, in a relationship where the land acquisition aspect of the investment may be led by the domestic partners. Speculative land acquisition by domestic investors acting alone is commonly for smaller land parcels, but the scale at which it is occurring makes it significant.

The ILC argues that given neglect by governments and aid donors, private or foreign investment in agriculture is necessary, and suggests five ways to curb risks and seize opportunities:

Ensuring the fair sharing of benefits, particularly opportunities to benefit from growing economic rents
Ensuring that foreign investment in land does not adversely impact on host country food security
Recognising the land rights of the poor as a starting point when considering land-based investments
Ensuring more inclusive and transparent processes for decision-making
Developing and promoting alternative models for agricultural investments

It’s a good paper, but if you just want a good two page overview, the FAO have an excellent policy brief, called ‘From Land Grab to Win-Win’.

August 12, 2009
Duncan Green