'Global land grab' causing alarm among NGOs

Agence France-Presse | 23 December 2008

MADRID (AFP) — The global food and financial crises have combined to create a new form of colonialism in which countries short of resources and corporations desperate for profits are buying up arable land in emerging nations, NGOs say.

The non-governmental organisations have expressed concern at this "global land grab," which they say is threatening the survival of rural livelihoods in some parts of the world.

The practice is being carried out in part by countries which have little arable land and have been hit this year by soaring food prices, and by investors who are getting burned in the financial crisis and are tempted by the profits from food products.

"On the one hand, 'food insecure' governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production," said the Spanish-based NGO Grain.

"On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue."

The result is that fertile agricultural land is becoming privatised and concentrated.

"Did someone say colonialism was a thing of the past?" Grain asked.

Among the countries looking for concessions are Arab countries in the Gulf, as well as China, Egypt, India, Japan and South Korea.

Among the target countries are the Philippines, Cambodia, Uganda and Brazil, said Grain.

Another NGO, International Land Coalition, has also voiced unease at the trend.

"The globalisation of land markets, combined with increasing opportunities for profit from agricultural production, is provoking increased speculation in agricultural land by multinational companies, including investment banks," it said.

South Korean group Daewoo Logistics is negotiating with the government of Madagascar for the acquisition of 1.3 million hectares of land, the equivalent of more than half of the land under cultivation in the country, to produce maize and palm oil.

The buying up of arable land "is a phenomenon of huge magnitude" which has undergone "a sudden acceleration," said Paul Mathieu, of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation's Land Tenure and Management unit.

He said the trend presents risks as well as opportunities.

The investors will "not only remove the land, but also the local farmers", with "real and major risks: impoverishment, extreme social tension, civil unrest," he said.

On the other hand, "more investment capital in agriculture, when well-managed, can contribute to real rural development."

But Grain is more pessimistic.

"If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world," it said.

The FAO recently issued a document on good real estate practices in which it called for increased transparency in transactions between investor states and local communities giving up territory.

"There may be very positive practices in the negotiations between outside investors and the local community, in which both are looking for a win-win situation," it said.

"But it is not won in advance as the negotiations are very uneven in terms of economic power and access to information."

Original source: AFP

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