Sunday, May 06, 2012

Who owns the land?

Also related to our earlier posts on farming and agriculture, and something SOYMB has posted about on the blog before - land-grabbing.

In 2009 alone, nearly 60 million hectares of land, over 75 percent of it in Africa, were leased or bought by foreign investors. The GAI conference is the premier agriculture investment event in the world with a  $3,000 priced admission ticket. Attendees are  institutional investors and fund managers – all mulling over the economic opportunities agricultural lands have to offer. While billed as an agricultural -conference, ensuring food or water security are not GAI's concerns. The first question asked at the water session addressed was, "What are the real economic opportunities in water now?" They claim that while they seek to make profits, their investments will result in improved livelihoods, job creation and food security.

Most investors are trying to bring capital-intensive American prairie farming to African plains that the World Bank calls "the world's last large reserve of under-used land". Peasants are being replaced with tractors.

With land such a sensitive issue and projects often shrouded in secrecy, reliable data is hard to come by. In the last decade, more than 495 million acres of land were sold or leased in transnational deals (The entire forested area of the United States, including Alaska, is almost 490 million acres). Other estimates vary. 560 million acres equivalent to the size of the combined territories of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. According to the Land Matrix project monitoring large-scale land transactions, land deals being considered or negotiated between 2000 and 2010 amounted to 203 million hectares - about eight times the size of Britain. Out of 71 million hectares in deals that Land Matrix was able to get good information on, 22 percent was for mining, tourism, industry and forestry. Of the remaining 78 percent for agricultural production, three-quarters was for biofuels. Separate World Bank figures show that worldwide, 56 million hectares of farmland were leased or sold in 2008-2009 alone, with more than 70 percent of the demand for land in Africa. Ethiopia alone has allocated some 3.6 million hectares of land for firms seeking to invest in agriculture. And across the border, foreign investors sought or acquired about 2.64 million hectares of land in southern Sudan from 2007 to 2010 for agriculture, biofuel and forestry projects, Norwegian People's Aid says. University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) lecturer in Political Science and Public Administration, Richard Mbunda claimed that 647,000 hectares of land were grabbed in 2010 alone in Tanzania by investors to pave way for the establishment of huge farms for planting jatropha, sugar cane and palm for producing biofuel. Newly independent South Sudan handed out a tenth of its land to foreigners before even raising the flag for the first time last year. Not far from the capital, Juba, a British investment banker, Leonard Thatcher, claims control of more than half a million hectares, in a deal done with an aged chief whose people have denounced the deal. Post-colonial governments across the world spent half a century putting communally owned land in state hands. The land was being held in trust for the people, they said. Now, after decades of under-investment governments are selling it to foreigners who promise investment and some of those governments are willing to accept any kind of investment.

 Friends of the Earth says  report states. Friends of the Earth says that anywhere from 80 to 227 million hectares of rural, often agrarian land, typically in poorer countries hungry for foreign investment, have been taken over by private and corporate interests in recent years. Because of a huge rising global demand for water, food and energy, both wealthy, food-importing countries and emerging economies are targeting cultivable land buy at rock bottom prices in poorer countries. "Some of these are countries which struggle to feed their own populations – but which have enough fertile land to attract foreign investors," Although this has  tended to conjure up the image of a neo-colonial foreign stampede for land, acquisitions recorded by official inventories are dominated by local individuals or companies, the World Bank says.( It also notes that national businesses may act as fronts for foreigners.) "Most of the land allocated to big scale production in Africa is for local guys," said ODI researcher Steve Wiggins. "Some may have talked the language of progress, modernisation, investment and so on, but their real motives are sometimes very simple - land accumulation, land speculation."

Others changing the food ownership landscape are corporates, pension funds and wealthy individuals seeking to diversify from riskier investments in the wake of the financial crisis. "The assumption is that farmland - fertile farmland with water - is increasingly scarce in the future and as a commodity it makes economic sense to invest in it," said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, a group supporting small farmers. "But we say this is not the way to feed the world. This is a way to produce a commodity for the international market for those who can pay - certainly not the poorest people in the poorest countries." Governments in the global south are claiming farmland is 'empty' and 'unused' – and selling it off to foreigners. Saudi sheikhs, private equity whizz-kids, Indian entrepreneurs and Chinese billionaires all believe, with financier George Soros, saying that "farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time".  They are satisfying their newfound land lust from Mali to Mozambique, Cambodia to Kazakhstan, and Paraguay to Papua New Guinea, usually seeking out unfenced "customary" land to grow grains, sugar, vegetable oils and biofuel for sale on the world's booming commodity markets. This unprecedented corporate privatisation and enclosure of the world's common lands – its pastures, fields and forests – is being done in the name of development. But much of it will destroy development. One British venture capitalist, with a 100,000-hectare stake in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, candidly admitted at an investor conference last year: "Industrial-scale farming displaces and alienates people, creates few jobs and causes social disruption."

South Africa
Total hectares bought: 1,231,034 (about 3 million acres)
Big purchase: 870,000 acres in Benin by an unknown investor for agriculture.

Total hectares bought: 1,329,793 (about 3.3 million acres)
Big purchase: 960,000 acres in Australia by Alberta Investment Management Corp. for forestry

Total hectares bought: 1,434,700 (about 3.5 million acres)
Big purchase: 350,000 acres in Mozambique by Global Solidarity Forest Fund for forestry.

Total hectares bought: 1,547,616 (about 3.8 million acres)
Big purchase: 880,000 acres in Indonesia by BHP Billiton Limited for agriculture.

Saudi Arabia
Total hectares bought: 2,204,132 (about 5.5 million acres)
Big purchase: 675,000 acres in the Philippines by Eastern Renewable Fuels Corp. for agriculture.

United Arab Emirates
Total hectares bought: 2,277,856 (about 5.6 million acres)
Big purchase: 4.2 million acres in Sudan by Al Ain National Wildlife for tourism

Total hectares bought: 2,388,000 (about 5.9 million acres)
Big purchase: 4.9 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo by an unknown investor for agriculture

Total hectares bought: 2,614,792 (about 6.5 million acres)
Big purchase: 4.9 million acres in Indonesia by an unknown investor for agriculture.

South Korea
Total hectares bought: 2,696,297 (about 6.7 million acres)
Big purchase: 1 million acres in Cambodia by Kapa Limited for unspecified purposes.

The UK
Total hectares bought: 3,008,472 (about 7.4 million acres)
Big purchase: 1.7 million acres in the Philippines by NRG Chemicals for agriculture.

Total hectares bought: 3,397,607 (about 8.4 million acres)
Big purchase: 710,000 acres in Indonesia by Sime Darby Berhad for agriculture.

Total hectares bought: 4,136,973 (about 10.2 million acres)
Big purchase: 900,000 acres in Indonesia by BHP Billiton for agriculture.

Total hectares bought: 5,354,502 (about 13.2 million acres)
Big purchase: 25,000 acres in Cambodia by the Phou Mady Investment Group for forestry.
China's ZTE Agribusiness, 100,000 hectares in Congo

Total hectares bought: 5,420,209 (about 13.4 million acres)
Big purchase: 4.9 million acres in Indonesia by Tata Power for agriculture.


A new report reveals widespread violations of people's rights and environmental destruction from a land grab initially funded by the World Bank in Uganda. The Friends of the Earth Uganda report provides first-hand accounts from communities forced to give up their livelihoods, food supply and access to water. The World Bank had historically provided millions of dollars in funding and technical support to palm oil expansion in forested islands off the coast of Lake Victoria in Kalangala, Uganda. Nearly 10,000 hectares have already been planted covering almost a quarter of the land area of the islands. While the Bank has since disassociated itself from the project, the land grabs continue. Palm oil plantations have come at the expense of local food crops and rainforests. Local people have been prevented from accessing water sources and grazing land. Despite promises of employment, locals have lost their means of livelihood and are struggling to make ends meet. John Muyiisha, a farmer from Kalangala, tells of how he woke up one morning to find bulldozers destroying his crops. He had been on the land for 34 years. Other community members were contracted to plant palm oil and then forced to sell their land because of debts, low income from palm oil and no food crops.

In Colombia, a mining rich country, 18 multinational mining companies own the rights to mine on over 12 million acres of land.The gold mining companies Anglo Gold Ashanti and Mineros SA have the rights to the largest amount of land, according to the report. Combined they control about 59% of these areas. Other multinationals such Eco Oro (formerly known as Greystar) and Leyhat, both Canadian companies, are not far behind. The latter owns the rights to mine on nearly 100,000 acres in the Colombian departments of Santander and North Santander. Oil multinational corporations, which were not included in the report, were granted over 90 million acres for oil exploration and production across Colombia. Cargill, the world’s largest agribusiness, recently bought over 220,000 acres in the Colombian department of Meta where it is already producing grains. The Israeli company Merhav has invested $300 million in buying and preparing nearly 25,000 acres in Magdalena Medio for the production of sugar cane to produce ethanol. In Colombia over 280,000 acres have been sold to foreign companies for biofuel crop production, as well as nearly 250,000 acres of forest land that is now owned by Timberland Holdings (Swiss-Ecuadorian company), Smurfit-Kappa (Irish), the Chilean-based companies AgrĂ­cola de La Sierra and Reforestadora del SinĂș, and the Colombian companies Inverbosques and Forest First. According to the November 2011 Peace Brigades International Colombia Newsletter, today, 40% of Colombia's 280 million acres of land "has been licensed to, or is being solicited by, multinational corporations."

And now,of course,  is the latest land grab in space with the billionaire-financed company Planetary Resources announcing they intend mining on an asteroid.  But just who owns the mineral rights to other worlds?

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

"Rural people are losing control over land and water because of this global land grab," says Honduran farmer leader Rafael Alegria of the international farmers' movement La Via Campesina. "We want the land grab stopped and the lands taken to be returned to the local communities..."

"The World Bank has for decades pushed a market-based approach to land management based on its political and economic recipes for poverty reduction. It has promoted land privatisation and sought to create the conditions for land markets to be established by transforming traditional and customary land rights into ready-to-be-marketed titles and by funding land-titling programs in many countries -- in support of a corporate-led agri-industrial model of development...As a result, peasants, herders, fishers and rural households are losing their access to and control over natural resources (land, water, fisheries, forests, pastures) and production processes, and therefore being dispossessed of the means to feed themselves and their communities. Local populations are being evicted and displaced, human rights such as the right to food and housing are being violated, and the environment, as much as traditional community structures, are being corporate-led transparency or responsibility schemes will ever make the expropriation of people’s land or the agri-industrial model acceptable or sustainable." - Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, and the Transnational Institute