Archive for the ‘Land’ Category

Feb22

New Reports Reveal the Human and Financial Costs of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions

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By Laura Reynolds

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of groups working for the rights of rural people to access and use their local natural resources, recently released two reports on the state of large-scale land acquisitions and investments, also known as land grabs.

Activists protest against ‘land grabbing’ in 2011. (Photo credit: Andreas Solaro, AFP/Getty Images)

The reports looked at the financial risk associated with international land investments and gave an overview of the setbacks and progress made in land tenure during 2012.

Investors, often from foreign countries, have turned to land development in recent years because of the high profits that can be made from activities such as mining, industrial food production, logging, and production of rubber or biofuels. But these investments often come with high costs as well, according to a December report from RRI. In addition to the human rights abuses and environmental destruction that can coincide with large-scale land acquisitions, investors can face an increase in their operational costs of as much as 2,800 percent.

The report, “The Financial Risks of Insecure Land Tenure: An Investment View,” profiles five foreign land investments that failed because of a lack of transparency or legality, resulting in financial hardship for the investors. In 2005, the Swedish ethanol producer SEKAB attempted to purchase 400,000 hectares in Zanzibar, Tanzania, to cultivate biofuel crops, but public outcry and the company’s failure to follow policy and environmental protocols led creditors to adandon the project and forced SEKAB to sell its assets at a loss of over $20 million.

In Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, the Malaysia-based multinational Sime Darby, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, had planned to develop 220,000 hectares for oil palm and rubber plantations after signing a 63-year concession with the national government. But land tenure disputes and large-scale rioting have repeatedly disrupted operations, putting the project’s long-term feasibility at risk.

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Jan15

Certified Organic Farmland Still Lagging Worldwide

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By Laura Reynolds 

Despite the growing worldwide demand for organic food, clothing, and other products, the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, 37 million hectares of land were organically farmed—an area that has grown more than threefold since 1999.

Certified organic farmland still represents just .9 percent of all agricultural land. (Photo credit: Andrew Hyde)

There is large regional variation in the area of land farmed organically. Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations, leads the world in certified organic land, with 12.1 million hectares in 2010. In contrast, North America had 2.6 million hectares of organic land, and Africa had just over 1 million hectares.

Reliable data are lacking for land that is farmed using organic principles but that is not certified organic. Many farmers, particularly subsistence farmers or those selling to local markets, farm organically but do not acquire organic certification. Certified organic products have created a niche market in recent decades, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants.

The countries with the most certified organic producers in 2010 were India (400,551 farmers), Uganda (188,625), and Mexico (128,826), while the region that added the most organic farmland between 2009 and 2010 was Europe. Overall, the amount of organically farmed land worldwide dropped slightly, by 0.1 percent, between 2009 and 2010—due largely to a decrease in organic land in India and China.

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Dec20

New Book Discusses Causes, Effects, and Extent of Land Grabbing

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By Andrew Alesbury

On December 4, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. held a book launch and panel discussion for the recently released book, The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security. The book is among the first to examine the burgeoning and complex trend of land grabbing and its implications for investors, host countries, and the world as a whole.

The Wilson Center recently held a book launch and discussion on the prevalence, causes, and effects of land grabbing. (Photo credit: Wilson Center)

The panel discussion, which was webcast live, was led by four experts in the global food security and agriculture community: Michael Kugelman, the book’s co-author and Senior Program Associate at the Wilson Center; Derek Byerlee, an independent scholar and advisor; Gary Blumenthal, President and CEO of World Perspectives, Inc.; and Janet Larsen, Director of Research at Earth Policy Institute.

The speakers noted that land grabbing, or the acquisition of large plots of land by foreign actors such as national governments or large corporations, has become particularly notable since 2007. A growing number of countries, fearful of unrest caused by volatile food prices or driven by the need for more energy security through biofuels, have begun investing in farmland abroad, cultivating the land and then exporting the products back home.

The countries purchasing the land typically have insufficient farmland at home (or they have exhausted it) but have ample capital to invest abroad. Among the biggest investors are China, India, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, which have been buying up substantial parcels in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. The International Land Coalition estimates that more than 200 million hectares of foreign agricultural land (nearly the area of Western Europe) were approved or under negotiation between 2000 and 2010.

In The Global Farms Race, the authors note that these land transactions occur most frequently in less-developed countries where governments lack transparency or accountability. These countries attract investors with financial incentives such as low taxes or inexpensive labor, but provide little support for local populations that are displaced or otherwise negatively affected by the land sales. As such, land grabs often become a “race to the bottom” among agriculturally fertile countries to attract wealthy investors, said author and panelist Kugelman.

Kugelman adds, however, that the pace of land grabbing has slowed in recent years. And although the driving factors behind land grabs—food and energy insecurity—are likely to persist, he suggests possible actions to avoid the potential downsides of these investments. Effective government oversight and regulation could help sellers avoid compromising their food security too much. Meanwhile, investing in drought-resistant farming techniques and crops could alleviate some of the demand created by nations too arid to farm their own land.

What is your opinion on land grabbing? Is it inherently bad or can the practice be modified to benefit all affected parties? Watch the webcast discussion here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

Andrew Alesbury is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Nov29

“Green” Economic Development Can Hurt the World’s Poor

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By Sophie Wenzlau

There is a dark side to the green economy. Or so say researchers with the STEPS Centre, a U.K.-based interdisciplinary research and policy center that unites development studies with science and technology studies.

According to the Journal of Peasant Studies, “green grabbing” is likely to further impoverish the world’s poor. (Photo Credit: Human Rights House Network)

The group’s observations in Africa and elsewhere suggest that land and resources in developing countries are increasingly being appropriated—transferred from the poor to the powerful—in the name of “green” economic development, ranging from efforts to promote biofuels, to carbon-offset schemes, to conservation and ecotourism initiatives. This rapidly growing practice, known informally as “green grabbing,” is forcing people to leave their homes and their land, and is responsible for increasing poverty worldwide, they say.

“Across the world, ecosystems are for sale,” writes Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, in an op-ed published last June by the news network Al Jazeera. She notes that businesses, environmental organizations, and governments are buying up huge tracts of land for “green” initiatives worldwide, often with unsettling consequences. Leach writes that in Mozambique, for example, “a company with British capital is negotiating a lease with the government for 15 million hectares, or 19 percent, of the country’s surface,” in order to capitalize on the “carbon credits” that can be derived from trees grown on the land and traded internationally.

In some cases, the sale of land for “green” purposes excludes local populations from accessing the natural resources on which they depend. In other cases, the sale of land for such purposes excludes residents from their land and homes altogether. Leach notes, “green grabbing builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment.”

“Green grabbing” is likely to further impoverish the world’s poor, according to 17 case studies recently published in a massive special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies. When farmers and pastoralists are excluded from their land, they are excluded from their livelihoods, the studies argue. And such exclusion can stall and reverse indigenous economic development.

According to Leach, both environmental principles and principles of fairness should guide the development of the green economy: “If market-based mechanisms are to contribute to sustainable development and the building of economies that are not only green but also fair, then fostering an agenda focused on distribution, equity, and justice in green market arrangements is vital.”

This perspective mirrors other recent criticisms of the green economy as being just another route to the “financialization of nature,” to the detriment of “commonly shared” resources such as water, forests, and fish.

Leach concludes by noting that true sustainable development must incorporate an emphasis on “nurturing and legitimizing more interconnected human-ecological relationships and understandings,” so that nature is recaptured “from the market’s grasp.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a food & agriculture research associate with the Worldwatch Institute.  

Nov21

A Tale of Two Farms: Industrial vs. Sustainable Meat Production in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most food in the United States comes from industrialized, intensive farms. Meat and dairy are no exception: nationwide, 40 percent of all U.S. food animals are raised in the largest 2 percent of livestock facilities. And these large-scale facilities, commonly referred to as factory farms, continue to grow. Between 1997 and 2007, the U.S. factory farming industry added 4,600 hogs, 650 dairy cows, 139,200 broiler chickens, and 1,100 beef cattle each day. On a global scale, industrial animal production now accounts for 72 percent of all poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production.

Pastured broiler chickens feed on grass and grain at Virginia-based Polyface Farm. (Photo credit: Polyface, Inc.)

Although factory farms provide large quantities of relatively inexpensive meat, the associated environmental, social, and human health costs are high. Factory farms rely on massive inputs of water, fossil fuel energy, grain-based feed, and other limited resources. Feed production alone accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the energy use associated with factory farming; growing animal feed also requires the input of water, fertilizers, and pesticides, and it occupies arable land that could be used directly to grow food. An estimated 23 percent of all water used in agriculture goes to livestock production.

Industrialized meat production also creates huge amounts of waste, contaminating nearby air and water and threatening the health of humans and wildlife. Some large factory farms produce more waste than large U.S. cities. The livestock industry is also responsible for approximately 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire global transportation sector. By contributing to climate change, factory farms affect people both locally and around the world.

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Nov11

An Interview with Seth Itzkan: Using Holistic Management to Address Desertification and Climate Change

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In this series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These individuals are working on the front lines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Laura Reynolds!

Name: Seth Itzkan

Affiliation: President of Planet-TECH Associates, a consultancy focusing on trends and innovations.

Bio: Seth has 25 years of experience consulting with private and public agencies on strategies for success in changing times. He is interested in the mitigation of climate change and is investigating new approaches to the problem, particularly focusing on the role of soils and grassland restoration through “holistic management.”

In 2011, Seth spent six weeks at the Africa Center for Holistic Management in northwest Zimbabwe, the sister organization of the Savory Institute in Colorado. While in Zimbabwe, he saw firsthand the restoration of degraded lands through improved land and livestock management. Since his return to the United States, he has advocated for holistic management to be considered as a methodology to address both desertification and global warming.

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Sep01

We Need a New Paradigm for Investments in Agriculture

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By Renatto Barbieri and Daniel Bornstein

Renatto Barbieri is the Portfolio Manager of the Galtere Global Agribusiness Fund (Galtere is a financial investment advisory firm based in New York). An agronomist by training, Mr. Barbieri has 20 years’ experience in commodity trading, structuring, financing, investment, and business development.

Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in anthropology and environmental studies. He has written articles on global food security for Nourishing the Planet, PolicyMic.com, and College News Magazine.

A growing social movement, led by a large number of sustainable farmers all over the world, is fighting daily in order to bring nutritious, clean produce to our tables (Photo Credit: Kyle Woollet)

The most recent price report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned of climbing food prices, a worrying reminder of the precarious state of the global food situation. Whenever corn and soybean prices climb in the various exchanges, investors—in the form of finance companies, pension funds, university endowments, trading companies, seed processors, fertilizer and chemical manufacturers—rush to take advantage of perceived bottlenecks in agricultural production in order to extract a monetary gain. Unfortunately, most of them will have contributed to accelerating the destruction of some of our most precious natural resources and the livelihood stability of rural communities all over the world.

Little notice is paid to the fact that over 90% of soybeans are dedicated to animal production and industrial uses, a figure acknowledged by the United Soybean Board, which is charged with maximizing profit opportunities for U.S. farmers. A large amount of corn finds its way into ethanol production, industrial foods and animal feeds.

In response to rising demand for meat in developing countries, Brazil has converted the Cerrado region into massive soybean plantations.  The notion that the land is simply being “transformed” is a convenient euphemism for this disaster: continued tree felling, local communities’ displacement, the depletion of water resources, and soil degradation—all for the purpose of export production, not local food consumption. Brazil has become one of the world’s largest users of chemical fertilizer, standing as the world’s second-largest importer of phosphate and potash fertilizers, according to Corn and Soybean Digest. This leaves farmers susceptible to international price volatility and exacts a heavy toll on the environment.

The Brazilian government’s initiative to boost domestic fertilizer production, in response to the price volatility issue, only continues down this unsustainable path and distracts attention from alternative approaches. At the same time, vast sugarcane plantations for ethanol production—touted as an alternative to fossil fuel energy—are not only extending chemical-intensive agriculture, but displacing local food production.

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Aug14

Hidden Cost of Hamburgers

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By Caitlin Aylward

The “Food for 9 Billion” project recently released a video highlighting the “Hidden Cost of Hamburgers” as a part of a new YouTube investigative reporting channel, The I Files.

The video uncovers the true price of a hamburger, revealing the environmental and social costs of factory-farmed meat.

The average American eats around 3 hamburgers a week, which adds up to 156 burgers per person each year. As a nation, Americans consume more than 48 billion burgers annually.

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Aug08

The Tree Bank: Forest Restoration as Rural Development

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By Angela Kim

Based in the mountain area of Los Cerezos, between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Tree Bank/Hispaniola project is helping to improve the incomes of impoverished smallholder farmers and restore native forests in the region. Earth Sangha, a nonprofit Buddhist environmental organization committed to forest conservation, started the Tree Bank in 2006 and recently launched its blog series called First-Hand, following the project’s work with local farmers in the Dominican Republic-Haiti border.

The Tree Bank/Hispaniola works with local Dominican partner organization, the Asociación de Productores de Bosque de Los Cerezos. (Photo credit: The Tree Bank/Hispaniola)

The Tree Bank’s mission is to create a system in which tropical farming is more compatible with native forests. By encouraging local family farmers to participate in conservation practices while producing their conventional crops, the Tree Bank strives to expand the function of smallholder farming to include ecological restoration services. Currently, the Tree Bank is working with twenty small farms and five programs, including a community nursery, native tree plantings, a farm microcredit system, an agroecology model, and the Rising Forests coffee brand. The coffee is shade-grown under the forest canopy of the region and produced exclusively by farmers involved in the program. Sales may come in the form of crops such as Rising Forests coffee, carbon or biodiversity credits, and direct donations for conservation.

Matt Bright, the Tree Bank’s Coordinator and author of First-Hand, writes the blog to show the concrete process and results of the Tree Bank’s efforts, from coffee development to conservation easements. Moreover, he connects readers and viewers to the local people working together on the rural development programs, from smallholder farmers to schoolteachers and doctors as well.

To read more about Earth Sangha, check out this post: “Earth Sangha Announces ‘Rising Forest Coffee”

Angela Kim is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.