2 million kilometers of foreign purchased land in developing countries is either idle or used for Western biofuel production, according to a British charity. Oxfam’s report estimates an area the size of London is sold every six days.
The report states that between 2000 and 2010, 60% of investment in agricultural land by foreign traders occurred in developing countries with hunger problems.
Yet two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce. While 60% of deals are to produce crops that can be used for biofuels. Land can also be left idle, as speculators wait for its value to increase.
Oxfam estimates that this land could have fed 1 billion people.
According to the International Land Coalition, an NGO based in Italy, 106 million hectares of land in developing countries has been acquired by foreign investors in a period between 2000-2010, with some disastrous results.
30% of all land in Liberia has been handed out in large scale concessions in the last 5 years, while up to 63% of all available land in Cambodia has been passed on to private companies.
Farmers forced out
Oxfam emphasizes that much of the land sold off was already being used for small scale and subsistence farming or other types of natural resource use.
The report dismissed claims by the World Bank that most of the sold land remains idle, waiting to be developed. In fact most agricultural land deals target quality farm land, particularly land that is irrigated and offers good access to markets.
A 2010 study by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) – the official monitoring and evaluation body of the World Bank – supported Oxfam’s findings.
It found that 30% of World Bank projects involved involuntary resettlement. The study estimated that 1 million people are involuntarily resettled in projects financed by the World Bank.
In some cases people were violently evicted from their land without consultation or compensation.
Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, told British newspaper the Guardian that, “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.”
Oxfam has urged the World Bank to freeze its investments in large scale land acquisitions in poor nations.
In the last decade the World Bank has tripled its support for land projects to $6-$8 billion a year, but it does not provide data on how much of this goes to land acquisition or any connection between lending and conflict in a country.
Oxfam wants the World Bank to make sure that information about land deals is publicly accessible, that communities are informed in advance and have the right to agree to or refuse to participate in projects.
Stocking said that the UK, as one of the banks largest shareholders and next year’s president of the G8, should try and get these land deals frozen.
“The UK should also show leadership in reversing flawed biofuels targets, which are a main driver for land and are diverting food into fuel. It can also play a crucial role as president of the G8 next year by putting food and hunger at the heart of the agenda,” Stocking said.
But in a statement released to the Guardian, the international Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private lending arm, defended its past transactions.
“IFC does not finance land acquisitions for speculative purposes. We invest in productive agricultural and forestry enterprises that can be land intensive to help provide the food and fiber the world needs.”