Archive for the ‘Land’ Category


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.



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.



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.


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…)


“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 recaptu