Leaked World Bank Report Highlights Extent of Land Grab Problem

By Ronit Ridberg

This is the fourth in a series of blogs about large-scale land acquisitions, or land-grabs.

Land rights advocates have been eagerly awaiting the World Bank’s report on large scale land acquisitions since December 2009.  Delayed three times already, the report is supposed to be the most comprehensive analysis of land acquisitions to date, largely due to the Bank’s ability to access information unavailable to non-governmental organizations or farmers’ groups.

A leaked World Bank report suggests that large-scale land investments do more harm than good for local populations. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A draft of the report was leaked to the Financial Times (free registration required to view article), which quoted its summary, “Investors in farmland are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments.” While this may not be news to those who have been following the issue closely, the Bank has consistently suggested that these land deals could potentially be a “win-win” solution for both investors and developing countries (see: Is There a “Win-Win” Solution to Land Acquisitions?). The leaked draft of “The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?” certainly calls this idea into question.

While noting a few deals that were successful for both parties, according to the Times, “the overall picture [the report] gave was one of exploitation, warning that investors either lacked the necessary expertise to cultivate land or were more interested in speculative gains than in using land productively.”

In a press release following the Times’ article, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute (and member of Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group) called for “heightened scrutiny of the Bank’s activities in promoting investor-friendly policies that spur foreign direct investment in agriculture in poor countries.” The Oakland Institute has authored two critical reports on the issue (see: Innovations in Access to Land: Land Grab or Agricultural Investment?) and Mittal suggests we need to start holding the World Bank “accountable instead of allowing it to sweep the damning findings under the rug.”

To read more about how these land deals harm local populations, see Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities. And stay tuned to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet for a chapter by author and journalist Andrew Rice on innovations that improve access to land.

Ronit Ridberg is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

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