BY JOE LYONS
Today in the Global South, millions of people are losing the ability to provide livelihoods for themselves and their families. A new practice, brought on by the need to lower prices of food production, has led countries and the corporations involved in large-scale acquisitions of land for incredibly cheap prices. These acquisitions, when done in unfair or illegal manners, are referred to as land grabs.
While there is no exact definition of land grabbing, one of the most recognized was drawn out by the Tirana Declaration of 2011, during a meeting of the International Land Coalition. They are defined as acquisitions or concessions of land that violate human rights, are not based on free, prior and informed consent of the affected land users, are not based on thorough assessment of environmental or economic impacts, are not transparent about binding commitments and are not based on effective democratic planning. Basically, this means that if the people currently using the land are not involved in the transaction of the land, if they are misled about how the land will be used in the future, or if they are forcibly removed from the land, it is a land grab.
The poor economic climate of 2007-08 led to an increase in food prices. Countries and businesses around the world needed land to increase their agricultural capabilities. Finding very few cheap options in their own countries, they turned to the Global South, particularly Africa. In Africa, they find corrupt leaders willing to assist the foreign investors, with acres of land that in the US would cost many thousands of dollars, being sold off $.50-$7. Those who are most impacted by these practices are small farmers, who rely on the land to feed themselves and their families. After the large businesses drive them off their land (often forcefully), their livelihoods are lost. They are forced to move into the cities to attempt to find work there, or to take low-paying, sporadic jobs on the foreign-run farms. Often the foreign companies make lavish promises involving greatly increased economic opportunity, but in most cases, the local people find themselves in worse situations (for an example of this, one might research the case of Dominion Farms, an American firm from Oklahoma with operations in Kenya and other countries). Since women make up the vast majority of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and are usually given little say about the land deals, they are the most affected by the land grabs.
While the complex and broad issue of land grabbing is difficult to cover in a short newspaper article, there are plenty of resources available that deal with land tenure issues on a worldwide scale. If you are interested in learning more about this issue, good resources include ActionAid, GRAIN, Oxfam International, the International Land Coalition and the Africa Faith and Justice Network. They have all done extensive work on this issue and are excellent starting points for further research. For more information on which countries are involved, a helpful resource is landmatrix.org. On this website people are able to view which countries are the perpetrators and victims of the land grabs.
The international community has made no binding legislation regarding the abolishment of land grabbing. Thus far, the African Union and UN have been relatively silent on the issue. However, millions of people around the world are losing their livelihoods to this practice. It is an issue that needs to be given more attention, so that the problems associated with the loss of land can be brought to an end.