Oxfam launched a major new report highlighting the growing pace of land deals brokered around the world, often to the peril of poor communities who lose their homes and livelihoods – sometimes violently – with no prior consultation, compensation or means of appeal.
In the report Land and Power, the international agency reveals preliminary research indicating as many as 227 million hectares have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors. Lack of transparency and the secrecy that surrounds land deals makes it difficult to get exact figures but to date up to 1,100 of these deals amounting to 67 million hectares have been cross checked. Half of these deals are in Africa, and cover an area nearly the size of Germany. (1)
Oxfam warns this modern day land rush follows a drive to produce enough food for people overseas, meet damaging biofuels targets or speculate on land to make an easy profit. However, many of the deals are in fact ‘land grabs’ where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.
This is likely to get worse as the increasing demand for food, the gathering pace of climate change, water scarcity and non-food crops like biofuels compete for land. Already, nearly three billion people live in areas where demand for water outstrips supply.
Oxfam Chief Executive Dame Barbara Stocking said, “Many of the world’s poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive.”
Oxfam’s report profiles the devastating effect land grabs in Uganda, South Sudan, Indonesia, Honduras and Guatemala are having on vulnerable communities. The report is part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign which aims to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat. Women, who produce up to 80 per cent of food in some poor countries, are usually most vulnerable as they have weaker land rights.
In Uganda, Oxfam’s research indicates that at least 22,500 people have lost their homes and land to make way for a British timber company, the New Forests Company. Many evictees told Oxfam how they were forcibly removed and have been left destitute, without enough food or money to send their children to school. There were court orders in force which named the company but eye-witnesses say that company workers took part in some of the evictions anyway. NFC denies that it was involved in any evictions. (2)
Christine, a farmer in her mid 40s, who lived in Kiboga district before the Uganda land grab said: “All our plantations were cut down – we lost the banana and cassava. We lost everything we had. The company’s casual labourers would attack us – they beat and threatened people. Even now they won’t let us back in to look for the things we left behind. I was threatened – they told me there were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”
Stocking said: “The case in Uganda clearly shows how land grabs are going under the radars of existing safeguards intended to protect vulnerable people. The New Forests Company describes itself as ethical and says it follows international standards yet more than 20,000 people were evicted without meaningful consultation or compensation to make way for their plantations.
“It’s not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations. Investors, no matter how noble they pertain to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from.”
Oxfam is calling for investors, governments and international organisations to prioritise putting a stop to land grabbing by fixing the current policies and regulations which all too often fail to ensure that, when investors negotiate deals, local people are consulted, treated fairly, and that all relevant international standards are respected. These include the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation Performance Standards and the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.