Global Policy Forum

Stop Land Grabbing Immediately!


Open Letter

April 2010


In response to the new wave of land grabbing, through which state and private investors, including large banks, investment funds and agribusiness corporations are leasing or buying up tens of millions of hectares of good farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America for food and fuel production, the World Bank (WB) is promoting a set of seven principles to make these investments "succeed". The FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD have agreed to join the WB in collectively pushing these principles. Their starting point is the fact that the current rush of private sector interest to buy up farmland is risky. After all, the WB has just finalised a study showing the magnitude of this trend and its central focus on transferring rights over agricultural land in developing countries to foreign investors. The WB seems convinced, however, that any private capital flows to expand global agribusiness is good and must be allowed to proceed so that the corporate sector can extract more wealth from the countryside. Since these investment deals are hinged on a massive privatisation and transfer of rights to land, the WB wants them to meet a few criteria to reduce the risks of social backlash - and to diffuse the irritation of the media and public in the North: The land grabbing should respect the rights of existing users of land, water and other resources (by paying them off), protect and improve livelihoods at the household and community level (provide jobs and social services), and do no harm to the environment. These are the core ideas behind the WB's seven principles for socially acceptable land grabbing.

These principles will not accomplish their ostensible objectives. The principles are rather a move trying to legitimize land grabbing. The central issue is that there is a global food crisis with over a billion people now going hungry, the vast majority of them being food producers. The real question is therefore: What kind of farming and food systems will feed people at a price they can afford, in a way that won't make them sick and that will give farmers a proper income and dignified livelihood and conserve soils and biodiversity for future generations? The answers to these questions have been given years ago by farmers' organizations, agricultural scientists, IAASTD and by other scientific evidence. These answers have been discarded by vested interests because they do not fit into the paradigm of agribusiness and investment funds. In the past decades support to people's agriculture was dismantled in the context of "structural adjustment" and "development cooperation". Trying to establish foreign control of people's farmlands in the name of productivity (no matter for whom) is completely unacceptable no matter under which "guidelines". The World Bank principles which intend to be voluntary and self-regulatory for the private sector try to distract from the fact that what is needed is mandatory and strict state regulation of investors in several policy fields like financial markets, investment, agriculture in order to overcome the multiple crises generated by the very same vested interests in the field of food, agricultural sustainability and climate.


Dear Governor of the World Bank

The FAO estimates that in the last three years 20 million hectares have been acquired by foreign interests in Africa only. A global process is underway whereby powerful foreign private and public investors conclude agreements with states for taking possession of and/or controlling large surfaces of land (many involving more than 10,000 hectares and several more than 500,000 hectares), which are relevant for current and/or future food security of the host country.

These large-scale land acquisition deals, most commonly known as land grabbing, will have a severe impact on the enjoyment of human rights of the local population, particularly on their right to adequate food. Land grabbing - even where there are no related forced evictions - denies land for local communities, destroys livelihoods, reduces the political space for peasant oriented agricultural policies and distorts markets towards increasingly concentrated agribusiness interests and global trade, rather than sustainable peasant agriculture for local and national markets and for future generations. Since foreign land acquisition is profit-oriented and largely for exports, it will foster the introduction/deepening of an industrial agricultural mode of production in the host countries. This mode of production will accelerate eco-system destruction and the climate crisis. Promoting or permitting land grabbing, therefore, violates the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It also undermines the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In response to the new wave of land grabbing, the World Bank has recently finished a study on large-scale land acquisition for agriculture in 20 countries and at the same time is promoting, in collaboration with FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD, a set of principles to guide its own operations and the responses from governments and other actors to large-scale land acquisition. Given the low levels of investment in agriculture, particularly in Africa, they argue that any investment-public or private-in lower income countries and rural areas is desirable in principle and that adherence to certain standards can make these deals a "win-win" opportunity for local people.

These principles will not accomplish their ostensible objectives. They are rather trying to   legitimize land grabbing. Facilitating the long-term foreign takeover of rural people's farmlands is completely unacceptable no matter which guidelines are followed. The WB's principles, which would be entirely voluntary, aim to distract from the fact that what is needed is radically new and effective regulation of investment in response to the global financial, food and climate crises.

What needs to be done is well-known: Broaden the economic base to produce food of  peasants, landless groups and indigenous communities by facilitating a secure access to sufficient land and water ressources as well as to fair credits and markets. Substantially invest in agro-ecological peasant farming, combining modern and traditional knowledge on sustainable agricultural systems. The input needed to improve the modes of production yields, however, needs a very different type of investment: Less in terms of capital-intensive inputs, and more in terms of knowledge, skills. What is needed is capacity-building and training to introduce resource conserving and production enhancing technologies under the control of local communities.

As a person internationally committed to the implementation of human rights, I would like to ask you to urgently:

- Take the measures within your sphere of competence and influence to immediately stop land grabbing;
- Deny the WB principles on responsible agroenterprise investment and support;
- Take the measures within your sphere of competence and influence to implement the recommendations of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) and the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

Please keep me informed about the measures you take in this regard.

Yours sincerely,

The Global Policy Forum was a signatory to this Letter, April 2010.


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