Responsible farmland investing? Current efforts to regulate land grabs will make things worse

Published on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab (Source: OFRANEH), August 22, 2012.

From the World Bank to pension funds, efforts are under way to regulate land grabs through the creation of codes and standards. The idea is to distinguish those land deals that do meet certain criteria and should be approvingly called “investments” from those that don’t and can continue to be stigmatised as land “grabs”. Up to now, it was mostly international agencies that were trying to do this. Now, the private sector is engaging in a serious way to set its own rules of the game.  

Either way, the net result is voluntary self-regulation — which is ineffective, unreliable and no remedy for the fundamental wrongness of these deals. Rather than help financial and corporate elites to “responsibly invest” in farmland, we need them to stop and divest. Only then can the quite different matter of strengthening and supporting small-scale rural producers in their own territories and communities succeed, for the two agendas clash. In this article, GRAIN gives a quick update on what is going on.

The current wave of land grabs affecting many parts of the world is widely recognised as an incontestable reality and a significant threat. Hundreds of deals have been documented in the last few years in many sectors, from timber and mining to palm oil and pork production. Published estimates of how much land is involved range from 80 million hectares to a breathtaking 227 million. And the accounts of dispossession, violence, death and ethnic assault associated with these deals have been steadily growing. Yet, among those in power, the main political discussion under way right now is not about how to stop land grabbing. It is about how to make it work.

The international agencies, like the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Bank or the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), are genuinely worried about the negative consequences of what they prefer to call large-scale land acquisitions. But the role they carve out for themselves is to harness this money in the name of old school development dogma — the belief that foreign direct investment leads to economic growth which trickles down to benefit the majority. Their efforts thus centre around the creation of voluntary rules that governments or companies can use to discipline and guide the land deals.

Not that President Sirleaf of Liberia, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Cristina Fernández of Argentina or Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine are shouting out to the international community to (help them) stop land grabbing. On the contrary, most governments want the deals, they are signing them, and they are often suppressing communities that rise up and resist expulsion or make noise about the poor wages or the loss of grazing lands for their livestock that quickly ensues. Only in a few countries are legislators, courts, administrative officials and political parties trying to set some basic limits on farmland acquisitions in the face of escalating interest from foreign investors … (full text).

Links:

UN General Assembly adopts Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, on HREA.org;

Garifuna People of Honduras launch land recovery campaign, on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab, Stephen Bartlett, August 23, 2012.

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