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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Oxfam challenge African leaders and World Bank to stop land grabs

African leaders and World Bank must freeze land-based acquisition deals for one year

Land equivalent to the size of Cameroon or Kenya was sold off during the last decade to foreign investors, says international development agency Oxfam. The existing 700 land deals on the African continent represent 50 million hectares of land. Globally, the amount of land sold off in the past ten years is enough to grow food for a billion people, Oxfam says. The agency called on African Union member states and the World Bank to freeze large-scale land acquisitions for a year

In its new report, Our Land, Our Lives, Oxfam warns that more than 60 per cent of global investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious food security challenges. However, two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60 percent of global land deals in the past decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.

Land deals in Africa potentially threaten the livelihoods of the continent’s 80 million smallholder farmers and pastoralists, which contribute 30 per cent of Africa’s GDP and 40 per cent of its exports. From Senegal to Zambia, smallholder producers, many of them women, have lost their homes and the land they rely on for their survival, often violently and without adequate compensation. Oxfam said Africa has been the continent most targeted for land acquisitions, with known deals equal to nearly five per cent of Africa’s total agricultural area.

The report comes as Oxfam steps up its campaign to end land grabs that violate the rights of the world’s poorest people. Oxfam supports greater investment in agriculture and to small-scale farmers. However the unprecedented rush for land has not been adequately regulated or policed to prevent land grabs and poor people continue to be evicted. Many lose their homes and are left destitute, without access to the land they rely on for food to eat and make a living.

Oxfam’s Pan Africa Head of Economic Justice, Mohamed Lamine Ndiaye, said: “With food prices spiking for the third time in four years, interest in land could accelerate again as rich countries try to secure their food supplies and investors see land as a good long-term bet. We are concerned that another wave of land grabs could occur unless better protection is put in place for poor people”.

Oxfam calculates that land deals tripled during the food price crisis in 2008 and 2009 because land was increasingly viewed as a profitable investment. With global food prices again hovering at record levels urgent action is needed to stop the threat of another wave of land grabs.

Oxfam says there is a need for Member States of the African Union to act decisively to freeze land acquisitions of more than 200 hectares for at least one year, to allow impact assessment to be carried out. As an influential investor and advisor in land deals, the organisation is calling for the World Bank to temporarily freeze its agricultural investments in land. This should give time for the Bank to review its advice to developing countries, help set standards for investors, and introduce more robust policies to help stop land-grabs.

Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director Irungu Houghton said: “The rush for land is out of control and some of the world’s poorest people are suffering hunger, violence and greater poverty as a result. The World Bank is in a unique position to help stop land grabs becoming one of the biggest scandals of the century and must act now”.

Mr Houghton continued: “The Panafrican Parliament has given its green light to adopt a moratorium on land grabs until social, environmental and economic impacts are better understood. Member States of the African Union should step in and act now as well. Concerted actions will yield quick results.” 

Oxfam said land grabbing in rural Africa is aggravated by laws, both statutory and customary, that can be very flexibly interpreted when investors get support from local elites or government decision makers.

Oxfam wants the freeze of land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop land-grabbing and to improve standards for:

·    Transparency – ensuring that information about land deals is publicly accessible for both affected communities and governments. ·    Consultation and consent – ensuring communities are informed in advance, and can agree or refuse projects. ·    Land rights and governance – strengthening poor people’s rights to land and natural resources, especially women, through better land tenure governance as set out by the Committee for Food Security. ·    Food security – ensuring that land investments do not undermine local and national food security.

Notes to editors: According to the International Land Coalition, 203 million hectares of land was acquired in major deals globally between 2000 and 2010. The same research shows that 106 million hectares of land in developing countries was acquired by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 The World Bank’s investments in agriculture have increased by 200 per cent in the last 10 years, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, sets standards followed by many investors. The Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. And since 2008, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank projects that they say have violated their land rights.

Oxfam is campaigning against land grabs as part of its GROW campaign, which aims to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat.


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