Alienation of agricultural land: a World Bank report

The Bretton Woods Project focuses on the World Bank and the IMF, challenging their power, opening policy space, and promoting alternative approaches. It serves as an information provider, watchdog, networker and advocate. 

Its latest Update features a World Bank report, “Rising global interest in farmland”, due in April but published in September.

It documents the dramatic increase of investor interest in agricultural land since the 2008 food price spike, with reported farmland deals amounting to 45 million hectares in 2009 alone, 70% of which has been in African countries.

Land has been acquired cheaply and local rights neglected

The report finds that investors have targeted countries with “weak land governance”, enabling them to gain land “essentially for free and in neglect of local rights”.   

Secret land deals between investors and governments have marginalised communities and excluded farmers from consultations, leading to the eviction of people from their land without proper compensation. 

Many of the projects studied have directly affected women’s land-based livelihoods or, where common resources were involved, have increased the time taken to gather water or firewood and raise food for the household. 

India has played a part in this as Devinder Sharma points out, directing readers to an article in the Times of India.

Are the Bank’s plans aimed at providing food for the hungry? 

Antoine Bouhey of NGO Peuples Solidaires called for a moratorium on these investments in developing countries that have not reached millennium development goal one” (to halve extreme poverty and eradicate hunger). 

Speaking at a UN conference in May, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, argued that the prioritisation of large-scale, capitalised forms of agriculture neglects smallholders who feed local communities and claimed that such methods will not solve the problems of hunger and malnutrition. 

His analysis is correct according to the Bank’s report, which lists in its appendices many tables relating to products of commercial interest [p110 onwards] – mapping unused land which could be used to produce sugar, oil palms, soybeans, maize, wheat and biofuels. 

Despite the harm and malpractice recorded, the Bank tacitly encourages further alienation of land . . . 

The report finds that investors have not succeeded even on their own terms: they have not created the number of jobs promised, and have failed to “effectively” invest in purchased land, due to lack of agricultural expertise or because they were more interested in speculative gains than in growing crops. 

Despite all the negative impacts recorded, the Bank claims that there are large opportunities for increased productivity and effectiveness in the utilisation of large areas of land not previously cultivated.  The Food Policy Research Institute mapped the areas available in 2008: 

 The squares indicate land available for sale, rent or lease; the triangles indicate hunger levels in order of gravity.

The report concludes that there is a need for an evidence-based multi-stakeholder approach to make more information available  – so that stakeholders will be able more effectively to use the opportunities created by increasing global interest in agricultural land [p. 103] 

And reassures potential investors that funds will be available to continue the process

The high global interest in this issue shows that country governments willing to embark on this agenda should be able to draw on significant technical and financial support [p.128]. 

Read the World Bank report here.


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