This week the World Bank is hosting an online consultation with global civil society based on its controversial report released last week: “Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Results?”
Why the controversy on the ‘rising interest in farmland’?
Because the World Bank reports that the ‘rising interest in farmland’ has led to farmers, especially in Africa and Asia, being forced from their farmland through deals made by international investors, food-importing countries and national governments in the name of development – also known as “land grabs.” (See the WITNESS backgrounder on development-induced displacement.)
The World Bank walks a delicate line by supporting these “land grabs” but advising investors to adopt guidelines to limit or prevent the widespread abuse it outlines elsewhere in the report.
Land grabs rising globally
According to The Economist, between 37 to 49 million acres of farmland were put up for sale in deals involving foreign nationals between 2006 and mid-2009. When food prices soared in 2008, countries dependent on food imports looked for cheaper alternatives. What resulted and continues to occur en masse is the large-scale purchase of farmland – especially in Africa and Asia – by international multinational corporations to grow commodities and then sell abroad to food-importing countries.
While investors look for profits and some international development organizations claim such projects can protect global food security, national governments regularly describe such projects as “development” – an attempt to create more efficient and productive farmland.
Impact of land grabs
In practice, what happens can be devastating. Farmers are forced from their land without consultation or adequate compensation ending their livelihoods and placing domestic food sovereignty further from reach. The World Bank report also concedes that, in the end, many of these projects are never even realized.
Land grabs have also led to violence or threats of violence as a tactic to move farmers off their lands. In Cambodia, WITNESS partner LICADHO has shared video of four villagers in Siem Reap province being shot by security forces for resisting their land being grabbed. WITNESS worked with LICADHO to document with video the trial of these villagers while we were in Cambodia this August. (More on this in my next post)
How is this happening?
“Investors are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap, and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments,” says Anuradha Mittal, who recently released a report on global land grabs. National governments and local investors are also reaping from their role in these investments regardless of the actual economic and social impacts to local communities.
Given the importance of the issue and that comments of the online consultation will feed into the World Bank’s and IMF’s Annual Meeting, 9-10 October, it is unfortunate there does not seem to be much traffic to the consultation. There are interesting comments however, so check them out and if you have other resources, reports or videos about land-grabbing please share them with us.
More in the next post on WITNESS partner LICADHO using video in its work on land grabs in Cambodia.
If you are interested in reading another response to the World Bank report, visit the blog the New Security Beat, for the post by Michael Kugelman of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The Center’s book, “Land Grab? The Race for the World’s Farmland” was released last year.