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.

Catch the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, Anuradha Mittal’s interview with Amy Goodman, which explains “land grabs” in greater detail.

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.


For information on large-scale farming in Latin America, read Red Sugar, Green Deserts by Habitat International Coalition-Americas, FIAN and Solidariedad Suecia-América Latina (SAL).

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.

2 thoughts on “Outsourcing our food: “Land grabs” and the food on your plate

  1. Development-induced displacement is the forcing of communities and individuals out of their homes, often also their homelands, for the purposes of economic development. It is a subset of forced migration. It has been historically associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation purposes but also appears due to many other activities, such as mining and the creation of military installations, airports, industrial plants, weapon testing grounds, railways, road developments, urbanization, conservation projects, forestry, etc. Development-induced displacement is a social problem affecting multiple levels of human organization, from tribal and village communities to well-developed urban areas.

    According to many specialists (e.g. Bogumil Terminski, 2012) at least fifteen million people each year are forced to leave their homes following big development projects (dams, irrigation projects, highways, urbanization, mining, conservation of nature, etc.).

    Development-induced displacement or the forced migration in the name of development is affecting more and more people as countries move from developing to developed nations. The people that face such migration are often helpless, suppressed by the power and laws of nations.

    The lack of rehabilitation policies for migrants means that they are often compensated only monetarily – without proper mechanisms for addressing their grievances or political support to improve their livelihoods.

  2. New York, October 28, 2010

    Companies and states investing in large-scale land deals must be held to standards of transparency and accountability to ensure that these deals do not threaten human rights and food security, said the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law in a report released at a public launch today.


    The 118-page Report, Foreign Land Deals and Human Rights: Case Studies on Agricultural and Biofuel Investment, examines both the immediate and anticipated impacts of large-scale land deals on the fulfillment of human rights in host communities. Based on a year-long study, the Report includes four case studies that evaluate, in unprecedented detail, investments in biofuels, food crops, timber, and carbon credits in Tanzania, Sudan, Mali, and Pakistan—countries that suffer from acute poverty, food insecurity, and in some cases, are still in fragile, post-crisis transitions. According to the Report, these factors heighten the risk of serious human rights consequences for the host communities of these investments, which makes the call for transparency and regulation all the more urgent.

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