Land grabs leaving poor families homeless and hungry: New Oxfam report

Media Releases article written on the 22 Sep 2011

In a new report released today, Oxfam has exposed the increasing scale and speed of international “land grabs” – secretive land deals by foreign investors and governments – that often rob poor farmers in developing countries of their land and source of food.

The report, titled Land and Power, reveals preliminary research that 227 million hectares – the equivalent of almost half the agricultural land in Australia – has been sold or leased in the developing world over the last decade, mostly by international investors.

Land and Power attributes the recent rise in land acquisitions to the 2007–08 food prices crisis, which led many investors and governments to turn their attention towards agriculture and saw some purchase land for speculative purposes, anticipating price increases in food and agricultural land in the coming years.

Oxfam Australia Director of Public Policy James Ensor said foreign land deals that do not respect poor people’s rights were an extremely serious issue in developing countries and the Australian government and investors had a role to play in stopping the damaging practice.

“Around the world, including in Australia, we are observing a mad scramble for land. A growing global economy and population, climate change, food insecurity and changing diets are driving governments and investors to acquire land outside their own borders for future food supplies.

“Often, this land is sold to foreign governments or corporations as unused or underdeveloped, ignoring poor small-scale farmers who can be violently evicted from the land and left with no way of growing food and earning a living.

“While international investment can play a vital role in development and poverty reduction, most of these land deals actually contribute very little to the economy in developing countries.

“Investors, governments and international organisations must put a stop to land grabbing by respecting international standards, including those set by World Bank’s International Finance Corporation Performance Standards and the Forest Stewardship Council, to ensure that local people are consulted and treated fairly.

“The Australian Government can do its part by backing tougher safeguards on overseas land investment at the Committee for World Food Security meeting next month. The Government should also ensure its own export financing corporation implements the voluntary guidelines it has signed and becomes a global advocate for strong binding regulation against land grabs.

“Australian investors must respect all existing land use rights, and seek the free, prior and informed consent of local communities before engaging in any land-related activities,” Mr Ensor said.

This report looks in detail at five land-grabs case studies, including a case in Uganda where more than 20,000 people were evicted, some violently, to make way for a British company New Forest Company without being provided compensation or alternative land. Many of these people have been driven into landless poverty, are malnourished and without health care, and can no longer afford to send their children to school.

The report has been released as part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign which aims to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat. Women in particular are hit hard because they do the majority of the farming work in poor countries, but face the biggest struggle to have secure access to land.

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview. For interviews please contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Sunita Bose on 0407 555 960.

Download the Land and Power full report or the summary.

Notes to editors: This data is compiled by the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations. The 227 million figure is based on information from individual land deals of over 200 hectares from a whole range of different sources including government reports, academic research, company websites, media reports and the few contracts that are available. The Land Matrix Partnership includes the International Land Coalition, the universities of Bern and Hamburg, the French research institute CIRAD, the German agency for technical cooperation, GIZ and Oxfam.