Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Further to an earlier blog we read:-

Large-scale land acquisitions for agricultural use by both local and foreign commercial entities – often dubbed “land grabs”- are on the rise worldwide. The rush to acquire land is driven by four factors: food price volatility and unreliable markets; the energy crisis and interest in agro-energy/biofuels; the global financial crisis; and a new market for carbon trading. Often touted as a form of economic development, these investments could have profound negative effects on the environment and rural livelihoods. While precise details are hard to come by, it is clear that at least 50 million hectares of good agricultural land – enough to feed 50 million families in India – have been transferred from farmers to corporations in the last few years alone, and each day more investors join the rush. Some of these deals are presented as a novel way to meet food security needs of countries dependent on external markets to feed themselves, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea or China. Others are bluntly exposed for what they really are: business deals and hot new profit opportunities. Despite the involvement of states, most of these transactions are between host governments and private corporations. Firms involved estimate that US$25 billion have already been committed globally, and boast that this figure will triple in a very near future. Land grabs, which target 20% profit rates for investors, are all about financial speculation. This is why land grabbing is completely incompatible with ensuring food security: food production can only bring profits of 3-5%. Land grabbing simply enhances the commodification of agriculture whose sole purpose is the over-remuneration of speculative capital. These agribusiness projects – from the 100,000 hectare Malibya deal in the Office du Niger, Mali, to the 320,000 hectare Beidahuang Group deal in Rio Negro, Argentina – do great harm and are profoundly illegitimate. Trying to compensate for this absence of legitimacy by getting investors to adhere to a few principles is deceitful. Land grabs, either through economic or physical means, are, as Teo Ballvé from University of California, Berkeley put it, actually the "last step in a long chain of violent events" perpetrated against small farmers and pastoralists. The commodification and privatisation of land and the dispossession of farmers and herders is seldom taken into account in the boardrooms of corporations or in high-level meetings with governments.

The violation of international human rights law is an intrinsic part ofland grabbing through forced evictions, the silencing (and worse) of critics, the introduction of non-sustainable models of land use and agriculture that destroy natural environments and deplete natural resources, the blatant denial of information, and the prevention of meaningful local participation in political decisions that affect people's lives. No set of voluntary principles will remedy these facts and realities. However, even if done "transparently," the transfer of large tracts of land, forests, coastal areas and water sources to investors is still going todeprive smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and other local communities from crucial, life sustaining resources for generations to come. In many countries, there is an urgent need to strengthen systems that protect land tenure of peasants and small-scale food producers, and many social movements have been fighting for recognition of their rights to land for many years. In many developing countries, however, local peoples’ rights to land are not recognized or enforced by governments. Often times, governments make decisions about how land and natural resources will be used withoutconsulting the people who depend on those resources for their livelihoods. People who rely on customary or traditional rights are particularly vulnerable to losing their land because there is little or no official documentation of their rights to protect them from their land being taken by someone else. This is a serious problem in Africa, where formal tenure covers only some 2 – 10% of all land.

In Ethiopia official government data in five of its nine regions indicate that a total area of at least 1.2 million ha – roughly 8.6% of the country’s cultivated area – were transferred to domestic and foreign commercial entities between 2005 and2010. Although production data are scarce, media reportsindicate that land acquired by Saudi Arabian companies in Ethiopia willbe used to produce vegetables, flowers, and rice for export to nations in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is due to receive food aid for 5.7 million people in 2011 from the United Nations World Food Programme. The size of individual deals can be staggering – in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), aChinese company has reportedly acquired rights from the central government to some 3 million ha of forest land across three provinceswhere indigenous people and other communities still rely on forests fortheir livelihood and culture. This transaction represents roughly two-thirds of the entire area in DRC that is potentially suitable for growing oil palm but not yet cultivated.

A broad consensus has grown over the past several years around the real solutions to hunger, the food crisis and climate chaos, namely that:

- peasant agriculture, family farming, artisanal fishing and indigenous food procurement systems that are based on ecological methods is the way forward toward sustainable, healthy and livelihood-enhancing food systems;
- production, distribution and consumption systems must radically change to fit the carrying capacity of the earth;
- new agricultural policies that respond to the needs, proposals and direct control of small-scale food producers have to replace the current top-down, corporate-led, neoliberal regimes; and genuine agrarian and aquatic reform programmes have to be carried through to return land and ecosystems to local communities.

This is the path to food sovereignty and justice, quite the oppositeof "responsible" land grabbing.


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