Study: Israel ranks among world's most harmful land-grabbers

Haaretz | 29 January 2013
The Director of Israel's LR Group, Ami Lustig, shaking hands with the Governor of Nigeria's Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding for a multi-billion naira 2,000-hectare Farm Village venture, 3 August 2012.

By Zafrir Rinat 

Wealthy countries, and private companies from those countries, have been increasingly buying up land in poor areas for their own economic purposes, a new study says. And Israel turns out to be one of the leading land grabbers.

The study, conducted by Italian and American researchers and published in the journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, warns that such land grabbing could cause environmental and economic damage to poorer countries.

The purchased land is generally used to grow crops for either food or biofuel. But the sales usually occur without the local population being consulted, and with no thought to the environmental or economic implications for the host country.

Altogether, the study said, more than 400 million dunams of land have been bought in this way - more than 10 times the entire territory of Israel. A large portion of this land was bought in the last four years.

Land grabbing has occurred in 62 countries, the study said, but 90 percent of the land in question is located in just 24 countries, mostly in Africa or Asia. It is not always a negligible portion of the country's total land: In the Philippines, for instance, it amounts to 17.2 percent of the country's total agricultural land.

The leading land grabbers are the United States, Britain and China. But smaller countries also make the list, among them Israel. Israel makes the list due to large-scale purchases of agricultural lands in Colombia, where sugar cane for biofuel is grown, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where jatropha, another plant used in biofuel, is grown.

The researchers note that crops planted on purchased land sometimes come at the expense of forests or other ecologically important zones. These crops also result in more water being used by rich countries, at the expense of the host country's ability to grow food for its own people. According to the study, 60 percent of the water used for such crops serves the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, Britain, Egypt, China and Israel.

In some cases, the study says, countries buy agricultural land and water sources because their own supply is limited. Examples of this include the UAE and Israel. In contrast, a large country such as China simply finds it more cost-efficient to grow food in Africa than to ship food within China itself.

International organizations, including the World Food Programme, have been trying to formulate new rules under which poor countries would also derive benefits from these land purchases, such as jobs as technological benefits. The WFP published voluntary guidelines on the matter about six months ago. But for now, the study says, such land grabbing is merely a new form of colonialism.
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