Recognize land as a human right- Sellout of agricultural lands will aggravate food crisis


FIAN | 10-12-2009

Heidelberg 10/12/2009 - For the first time in decades, the estimate of undernourished people is on the rise again, and has passed the historic margin of one billion. Unsecured, unequal and discriminatory access to land and other natural resources remains one of the key structural causes of hunger. The recent phenomenon of large-scale land grabbing brings a new dimension into the struggle for the scarce resource.

"The sellout of African, Asian and Latin American agricultural lands to foreign states and companies will further aggravate the food crisis," warns Sofia Monsalve, agrarian policies expert at FIAN International. "On the occasion of today's Human Rights Day, we demand that States fulfill their obligation to respect and protect the right to food of their citizens and abroad by preventing large scale land grabbing" Monsalve points out.

The new land grabbing wave is triggered off by a number of countries which, in order to combat their dependency on food imports, start outsourcing their domestic food production by gaining control of large tracts of farm land in foreign countries. At the same time, private investors have discovered foreign farmland as a new source of profit.

"Large-scale foreign land acquisition for export purposes drastically reduces land availability for agrarian reform and equitable land access", says Rolf Künnemann, Human Rights director at FIAN International Secretariat. "This is particularly detrimental as peasants and pastoralists depend on access to land and other productive resources to be able to feed themselves. In a context of population growth in these countries their increasing resource needs have to be respected", Künnemann goes on.

80 percent of the people that suffer hunger and undernutrition live in rural areas, but become increasingly deprived of access to land, due to violent dispossessions and displacements in the context of armed conflicts, extractive and agribusiness industries, tourism, industrial and infrastructure projects, accelerated urbanisation and the massive promotion of plants used for agrofuel production.

Künnemann is particularly concerned about Ethiopia, where almost half the population is food insecure, famines are recurrent, but at the same time, the government gives away vast stretches of prime agricultural land to business interests from India, the EU, the USA, Israel and Saudia Arabia - mainly for sugar, meat, agrofuels and flowers. "By failing to outrule such scandalous deals these countries are complicit in Ethiopia's violations of the right to food", Künnemann explains.

"Since its inception, FIAN has been consistently working on access to land and agrarian reform as central elements of the right to adequate food. Given the dramatic scale of land grabbing we are witnessing today, and given the fact that land is essential for the fulfilment of several human rights such as the right to food, housing, water, work, culture and Indigenous Peoples' rights, time has come to increase the protection of access to land by fully recognising it as a human right", says Flavio Valente, FIAN's Secretary General.

Background information:

  • In Kenya's Tana River Delta, the country's most fertile area, two major agricultural investments are being planned. A 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation to be run by a private Company and a horticultural project of dimensions yet unknown for the government of Qatar. For the pastoralists who depend on the fertile pastures during the long dry season, the realization of the project would spell doom. The grazing land, held in trust by the county council, would be fenced off and converted into plantations. Access to the river would be blocked. But also hundreds of farmers would be affected directly, because they are squatting on project land, or indirectly, because the water resources would be tapped by the investors.
  • In Madagascar, a country where 37% of the population is undernourished and the majority (approx. 73% ) of the population lives in rural areas and mainly relies on agriculture and rural development for their livelihoods, Daweoo Logistics, a subsidiary company of Daweoo International Corporation signed a contract for leasing 1,3 million ha for 99 years to produce maize and palm oil mainly for export. This project sparked strong opposition among the Malagasy population.  However, the government has not given any answer yet to the 10,000 letters sent to the Malagasy government through a FIAN letter campaign requesting to officially confirm that the lease contract with Daweoo has been cancelled as was announced on the18th of March 2009 - see FIAN Urgent Action on Madagascar
Original source: FIAN


  1. christoph Meier
    13 Dec 2009

    THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OF THE LAND-GRAB QUESTION IS FUNDAMENTAL; NAMELY THAT LAND TODAY IS TRATED AS A COMMODITY INSTEAD OF A RIGHT TO USE. Who owns the Earth? The Question of Modern Land Reform (Theses) 1. The system of land legislation, i.e. the canon of rules for the utilisation of land, is a fundamental feature of every society. However, it is also an expression of the society’s self- perception. The emergence of modern concepts of state, with the break-up of traditional so- cial hierarchies, and the advent of a globalised world order make a new look at land legisla- tion mandatory. Otherwise serious injustices and damages will result, of the kind which we are already facing today in numerous instances. 2. Land forms the basis of the whole of any society. Thus the necessary allocation of land utilisation must benefit all individuals within the society. Since land, with few exceptions, is not a producible commodity, it cannot be put on sale in a market. Selling land means priva- tising that part of the ground rent which should actually be socialized. Turning the factors of production into saleable commodities is a serious and fundamental mistake of our economic system. In this regard, labour and capital are similarly problematic, though for different rea- sons. 3. The land always belongs to everyone, though it can be utilised only by individuals. Thus individual “ownership” of land can only refer to the right of utilisation. As long as this individual utilisation continues unchanged, there is no need for societal action. Society only has to ensure that a new user can step into the rights of the previous utiliser when he quits. In such a system, the right to land utilisation would change hands only by assignment, not by sale. In this way, land “ownership” would be brought back into circulation within the social system. Society would not manage the land; it would only ensure that it is available to (suit- able) individuals for utilisation, and that such utilisation is not made impossible by prohibitive sales prices. 4. Instead of a sales price paid to the to the pre-possessor, society could impose a so- cial compensation payment for the ongoing utilisation of the land. This is justified because the use of land by one individual excludes everyone else from using the same plot. The communal income accruing from the compensation payments would be used to the benefit of all people in the respective region, or part of the world. Such compensation payments do not constitute interest on capital, since no sale, and thus no capital transfer, has taken place. Their level would not be determined by supply and demand, but by social considerations. For instance, society can adjust the level so as to further ecological agriculture or other societal goals. 5. A land reform of this kind would have enormous consequences for the conditions of social life, from housing to regional and town planning, and finally to the agricultural system. Even more serious would be the effects on prices and incomes if the manner of land utilisa- tion were thus to be brought back to a state of stable health. The capital, which is presently tied up in land property, would be set free for other, useful purposes. 6. Large parts of the world are presently being forced to reorganise their social systems, adapting them to the conditions of globalisation. It would not be necessary to plunge these regions into the same problems of land speculation which other parts of the world have gone through - possibly in even more acute forms. In the rich countries, long-established social rights and public welfare alleviate the problems arising from land legislation. Countries that are still developing have not had the time to establish such safeguards; consequently, they lack the corrective forces that make the adverse effects of outdated forms of land legislation tolerable in our part of the world. Our Responsibility for Our Resources (Theses) 1. Since time immemorial, the resources of our world seemed inexhaustible. Again and again, new discoveries and inventions seemed to make serious concern unnecessary. This euphoria is now gone. We have become conscious of the limitations of our resources. Care and husbandry are indicated. A more sophisticated concept is sustainability, based on self- renewal and circulation of resources. 2. Land legislation has a greater impact on resource management than is generally real- ised. It is not only the direct effects mentioned in the theses of the first Building Block that are of concern. Directly or indirectly, property legislation influences a lot more: the right to min- eral resources in the ground; preferred types of agricultural utilisation; the management and care of water supply and atmospheric pollution. Those are also the points of origin of the strongest opposition to reforms. The problem is aggravated by WTO’s claim to deregulate land property transactions everywhere. 3. A special problem is posed by mineral resources below the sea outside national terri- tories, which so far have been exempt from sovereignty. The extension of territorial limits to 200 miles was a first coup against the chances of making those resources available to all mankind. Contention for territorial rights to islands and bases such as the Falklands, the Ae- gean, Morocco etc., which at first sight appears politically senseless, often concerns sub- oceanic mineral or oil deposits. Reversing this aberration would constitute a movement to- wards a constructive type of globalisation that would not imply real loss of sovereignty, only abstention from an expansion of power spheres - an important step toward building confi- dence. 4. In agriculture, promotion of ecological (“bio”) cultivation methods is the foremost goal - being the closest we can get to real sustainability. In our countries, the percentage of eco- logical methods being used is steadily increasing, although it has yet to reach the 10 per cent level. But in the end, ecological methods will survive only if the price structure allows. React- ing to the change from traditional into area-proportional subsidies in the developed econo- mies (without regard to ecological aspects), the developing countries now ask for the total abolishment of agricultural subsidies. This brings out a second problem in agriculture: that indeed we must learn to sustain regional equilibrium everywhere. Agriculture is tied to immo- bile land, and that puts regional limits to its markets. It would be absurd if globalisation, in striving for trade and technical equalisation, were to destroy the agricultural part of the econ- omy in our countries. Ecology is not the only reform we need in our agricultural sector: we also need a new type of economy. About the author Udo Herrmannstorfer (Dornach); born in 1941 in Breslau; industrial manager, master of business adminstration, studies in economics. Since 1971 a freelance management consul- tant focusing on organisation and training. Study of Anthroposophy and its social impulses. Consultancy and support of initiatives which are searching for new forms, - based on the idea of social threefolding. Working on the questions of societal- and economic policies from a socioscientific point of view. International work includes lectures and seminars, works also as an editor and author. Heads the institute for modern forms of economic- and social life in Dornach, Switzerland.

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