Land stolen from the poor

Published on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab (first on Mennonite Weekly Review), by Patricia Kisare, Jan. 4, 2012.

Multinational corporations and foreign governments are acquiring large amounts of agricultural land, prompting conflicts and controversies globally. Dubbed “land grabbing,” this trend is a stark reminder of colonial-era practices when poor countries’ natural resources were controlled by foreigners and a few local elites. Not surprisingly, conditions under which most of these land deals are being pursued are extremely poor and lack transparency.  

A growing number of reports have shown that these large-scale land acquisitions promote an unsustainable form of agriculture and are not a solution to the serious food crisis with which we are faced.

Nevertheless, government and private investors from rich countries continue to pour funds into acquiring overseas farmlands, leaving the bulk of farmlands managed by foreign investors … //

… Even when small scale farmers find work as laborers at these large farms, they get paid very little. Many end up producing food for foreign markets rather than for their own consumption, while staying dependent on imported food they cannot afford to buy.

Not only do these investors acquire large strips of land, they also secure water rights, resulting in the de facto privatization of water. This has huge implications for peace in the region between countries and communities that share water resources.

The fundamental purpose of land grabbing is to commercialize food production to serve foreign markets rather than local needs. It also encourages food commodity speculation in the financial markets.

Existing international food and agriculture policies do not protect the people most affected by this practice. Policies that benefit the well-being and development of all people, rather than benefiting elites and multinational corporations, need to be implemented.

In Jer. 21:11 God sends a message to the house of the king of Judah to act with justice and righteousness, and to deliver those who have been robbed from the hand of the oppressor. The same is asked of us. One way to do this is by making sure we do not invest in financial companies that perpetrate activities that rob agricultural land from the poor. (full text).

(Patricia Kisare is a legislative assistant for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office. See also Mennonite Weekly Review).

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