Talk point: Land grabs

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The Guardian | 26 January 2011

This month's Global development podcast will explore the issue of land grabs. Join the conversation and post the questions you'd like us to put to our panellists

By Jaz Cummins and Claire Provost

The Omo River, Ethiopia, a country ripe for corporate land grabs. (Photo: Remi Benali)

The food, fuel, finance and climate crises have put a rising premium on agricultural land, and have raised new fears of land grabs as wealthy investors – public and private, foreign and domestic– enviously eye vast tracts of arable land in developing countries around the world.

In this month's Global development podcast, we'll look at the scale and scope of these land grabs, explore why they are happening, consider their implications and we'll examine what – if anything – can be done to ensure these large-scale agricultural investments are used for local development.

Madeleine Bunting will present the discussion and will be joined in the studio by John Vidal, the Guardian's environment editor, along with Camilla Toulmin, economist and director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Devlin Kuyek, researcher at the NGO GRAIN, will join us by phone from Montreal.

The podcast will be recorded tomorrow, and we'd like to hear any questions, comments, or experiences you'd like us to share with our panellists. Do these large-scale deals in land invariably represent a threat to the poor, or can they also be opportunities for development? If so, how? What, if anything, is missing from the debate around land grabs?

If you want to get a feel for the topic, John Vidal travelled to Ethiopia last year for an Observer investigation on the scale and pace of land grabs there, and across Africa. Meanwhile, Madeleine Bunting recently reported on her travels in Mali, where she found foreign firms snapping up all the best fertile land and asked what this will mean for local farmers.

GRAIN maintains an online depository of news reports on the global rush to buy up or lease farmland abroad, and the IIED has a special project asking the question "Land grab or development opportunity?"

In the spring, two major conferences will take place on both sides of the Atlantic. In April, a conference on global land-grabbing will be held at Institute of Development Studies, in Brighton, focusing on the politics of agrarian change.

A month later, leading institutional and private investors, hedge funds and pension funds will descend on Chicago for the World Agricultural Investment conference, to evaluate the most lucrative investments and identify the best agricultural opportunities around the world.

Get a headstart on the debate, and tell us here what you want to know from our panellists.

And as always, if you have any problems posting a comment, or if you would prefer to suggest a question anonymously, email us here.

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