WASHINGTON, D.C. — ActionAid International has called out the World Bank, the G20 and the World Economic Forum for incentivizing land grabbing in vulnerable parts of the world.
Land grabs, as defined by 2011’s Tirana Declaration, are land deals that are, among other traits, “in violation of human rights, particularly the equal rights of women, [are]not based on principles of free, prior and informed consent, or are in disregard or fail to thoroughly assess social, economic and environmental impacts.”
In the last 14 years, over 360,000 square kilometers of land has been sold to private investors, an area larger than the entire nation of Germany. This land has been sold via thousands of deals, of which 41 percent took place in Africa, 32 percent in southeast Asia and 19 percent in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Policies like the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition—salutary in name—are being christened “new colonialism” by critics, as these policies section off parts of Africa and other regions in order to benefit wealthy investors. While the World Bank and other liable institutions deny their support for the current rash of exploitative land grabbing, it is impossible to ignore the fact that their policies make it possible.
The sales that constitute land grabs traditionally take place in private, far from the public eye and with little or no input from the local land owners. Most investors are foreigners, and the lion’s share of them come from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Malaysia. The policies in place among international financial institutions benefit land speculators and provide benefits such as tax breaks for larger land holdings.
The consequences faced by local communities are dire. In Sierra Leone, where Addax Bioenergy and its Europe- and Africa-based supporters orchestrated an ethanol-producing program, as many as 13,000 people have been negatively affected. These people have seen both their wages and their access to food reduced.
The nation of Laos is a prime example of land grabbing and its disastrous consequences. In Laos, 5 percent of the nation’s land area has been sold in land grab deals since 2010. As in other regions, foreign investors make up the bulk of buyers, though in Laos these investors come mostly from China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ethnic minorities in Laos are particularly vulnerable to land speculation. Most of these minorities live in resource-rich highlands that appeal to investors. Most minorities also lack access to modern education, reducing their legal and political power and thus their ability to resist the sale of their land. Those who lose their land and are relocated face extreme poverty in urban and suburban areas, where without formal education, most are unable to adapt. Mortality rates are alarmingly high among relocated populations in Laos, climbing as steep as 30 percent for some groups.
All land in Laos is government owned, making resistance to land grabs exceptionally difficult. Although Laos, like other nations, has laws in place to prevent the victimization of citizens by private corporations, these laws are largely ignored.
Practice has shown that smallholder farming does more to relieve poverty than does big agro-business, and ActionAid is pushing the World Bank and other groups to embrace this alternative to land speculation. Enforcing the land rights of local farmers increases economic growth, improves nutrition and enhances sustainability. A total of 2.5 billion people already participate in small-scale farming around the globe. ActionAid argues that these are the people who should be protected and rewarded, not wealthy foreign investors.
To read ActionAid’s full, detailed report on land grabs and their consequences, read The Great Land Heist courtesy of ActionAid International.