UN moves to curb farmland grabs

Published on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab (first on Financial Times), by Javier Blas, March 25, 2012.

The UN has proposed that countries set limits on the size of agriculture land sales to regulate the growing trend of so-called farmland grabs.

The new voluntary guidelines won the consensus of nearly 100 countries this month after three years of negotiations and are now set to be ratified in May at a special session in Rome of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.  

The guidelines, which officials say are largely pro-business, nonetheless state that countries should “provide safeguards” to protect tenure rights.

“Such safeguards could include introducing ceilings on permissible land transactions and regulation over how transfers exceeding a certain scale should be approved, such as by parliamentary approval.”

The FAO said earlier this month that the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land’ had won the consensus of countries, nongovernmental groups and farmers, but did not release the content of the guidelines.

The voluntary code is the first attempt to regulate investment in farmland deals, which often involve rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea investing in overseas farming in Africa and Latin America to boost their own food security.

The trend gained prominence after an attempt by South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics in 2008 to secure a large chunk of agricultural land in Madagascar contributed to the collapse of the African country’s government.

Critics, including prominent international non-governmental organisations like Oxfam believe the deals are a form of neo-colonialism. But supporters argue that investment in farmland could contribute to economic growth in the host countries and improve global food security.

Farmland has become a hotspot not only for countries, agricultural groups and commodities trading houses, but also for institutional investors. For example, US pension fund TIAA-Cref has about $2bn invested in farmland worldwide.

The World Bank last year urged voluntary regulation of farmland investments, painting a poor picture of some of the deals already signed. In a report, the bank said that “land acquisition often deprived local people, in particular the vulnerable” … (full text).

Links:

Investments in land and the phenomenon of land grabbing: Challenges for development policy, on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab, by BMZ, March 27, 2012: Download the 22 pages PDF;

Between April 1-4, 2012, hundreds of Sierra Leonean small land owners and community members from all over the country will come together in Freetown to organize against land grabs. Join the Oakland Institute in our pledge to raise $10,000 to fund travel, food, and lodging for 100 participants … we need your support urgently, donate now.

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