May 03, 2012
3 May 2012 - Responding to concerns raised by Friends of the Earth International and others about the impacts of land grabbing, The World Bank claims that land lease deals in developing countries can reduce hunger and poverty, and build sustainable agriculture. The facts tell otherwise.
Does leasing or purchase of land in developing countries have the potential to improve agricultural productivity and the livelihoods of small farmers?
A recent World Bank blog post, responding to concerns that we raised in our land grabbing campaign, claims that this is a real possibility. It is also a theme pursued in the World Bank annual meeting on land and poverty. Yet the facts tell otherwise.
Recent reports on land grabbing show that in reality, land grabbing displaces thousands of communities, is causing violent conflicts, undermines livelihoods and does not generate promised jobs (See for instance Oxfam and the Oakland Institute). In fact, the World Bank’s own report on land grabbing fails to find evidence of the benefits of land grabs. Instead it reports that
'many investments…failed to live up to expectations and, instead of generating sustainable benefits, contributed to asset loss and left local people worse off than they would have been without the investment'.
The cases detailed by the Bank study found overwhelmingly negative impacts while any benefits remained confined to theoretical possibilities.
Hunger and poverty
The Bank clings to the theory that land deals, if conducted properly, can reduce hunger and poverty and build sustainable agriculture, even if this is contradicted by the evidence. The latest of this is the release of world’s largest database of land deals struck since 2000. The results from examining 1,006 deals are startling.
Overwhelmingly investors are targeting poorer countries with weak land tenure security, largely poor countries in Africa. Sixty-six per cent of land acquired is from countries that have above average hunger combined with a high share of GDP from agriculture. But almost two thirds of the crops produced are for possible non-food use. This is not all. In all the cases with available information (393), export is the principal aim of the production. Domestic markets are of marginal concern.
A clear and ugly picture emerges. Investors are looking for countries with cheap and easy access to land to give them high returns and export food. But these countries are the most at risk of hunger. As the analysis shows, the dependence of the poor in these countries on agriculture means few other jobs are available.
While the World Bank talks of 'helping small holders catch the wave of rising interest in farmland', smallholders are being pushed into hunger and poverty by these very land grabs.
The top ten crops grown in acquired land paint a clear picture of what kind of use the land is being put to:
1.Palm Oil 16 M hectares
2.Jatropha 14 M hectares
3.Maize 8 M hectares
4.Rice 6 M hectares
5.Eucalyptus 5 M hectares
6.Sugarcane 5 M hectares
7.Trees 4 M hectares
8.Rubber 4 M hectares
All these crops bar one (rice) are demanded by various commodity markets ranging from agrofuels to carbon markets to animal feed that provide huge profits for agribusiness and investors that speculate on them. None other than maize are staple food crops in Africa.
What about claims of sustainable agriculture? The largest share of land acquired is from forested land - 24% of all deals and 31% of their total area. Forests are being converted to plantations by land grabs.
The World Bank paints this grim picture as an abstract worry of Civil Society, while at the same time continuing to press for more land investment.
Less than a month before the World Bank land conference, its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) announced that it was providing $2.9 million in political risk insurance to the UK's Unifruit Ltd for the construction of a 1,000 ha farm in the drought prone district of Ethiopia that will produce fruit and vegetables for export to European supermarkets. This is the latest in a string of MIGA protection for land grabbers.
Land grabbing in Uganda: the World Bank's involvement
The World Bank denies its involvement with the expansion of palm oil in Uganda. Yet according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
'The World Bank was strongly involved in the design of the project and was cooperating institution from the start until August 2004. It played a key role in facilitating negotiations between the Government and the private investor. (…). Both institutions made important contributions to project supervision, although they focused primarily on the Oil Palm Subproject and gave very little attention to the Essential Oils Subproject.'
The World Bank was also involved in technical appraisals of the project and, according to IFAD, its 'supervision reports show a high degree of commitment to and knowledge of the project. The Bank was able to use its influence to push forward negotiations on the selection of the private investor and it performed an important mediating role'.
Documents from the Agriculture Ministry of Uganda show the World Bank was involved in the projects final sign off and launch. To date, the company involved, BIDCO, claim a partnership with the World Bank on their website.
After the project was up and running, the World Bank withdrew as it feared the project would not comply with its internal forestry safeguard policies, although these were threats raised by initial Environmental Impact Assessments. The key concern is that through decades of support for market based land policies and export oriented industrial agriculture the World Bank has set the stage for land grabbing. Now, all the talk of transparency, good governance and responsible investments by the Bank and others hides the brutal reality behind it.
Access to land: a human right
Access to land and resources has long been recognised as vital to ensure food and livelihoods for the world’s rural poor. Social movements have long warned that land grabbing forecloses vast stretches of lands and ecosystems for current and future use by peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and nomads, seriously jeopardising their rights to food and livelihood security. It captures whatever water resources exist on, below and around these lands, resulting in the de facto privatisation of water.
The violation of international human rights law is an intrinsic part of land grabbing through forced evictions as well as the introduction of non-sustainable models of land use and agriculture that destroy natural environments and deplete natural resources, the blatant denial of information, and the prevention of meaningful local participation in political decisions that affect people's lives.
Stop land grabbing!
This is why Friends of the Earth International along with several of the leading civil society actors campaigning on land grabbing is supporting the call of farmers’ organisation La Via Campesina that the World Bank has no legitimate role in land policies. We are demanding that it is governments who must step up to their responsibility and take urgent steps to stop land grabbing, rather than listen to those that assist it.
Apr 23, 2012
John Muyiisha and his community in Kalangala, Uganda, have lost their land. One day, BIDCO, a Kenyan company, arrived and told him that the land was now theirs. Bulldozers came that flattened the ancient forest and John's coffee plants. The company planted oil palms instead. With just 2 acres left to make a living, John and his community are now fighting for the right to their land. This is their story.
Apr 04, 2012
In Uganda whole communities are being displaced and scattered as the political elite offer up land to international buyers without a thought for those living on it. Betty Obo from Friends of the Earth Uganda explains how this practice is taking hold on the African continent and beyond.
Some foreign investment firms have called it the next ‘golden’ commodity. Many analysts, global human right groups and civil society organizations have called it neocolonialism. If I may be sentimental, I want to call it the new slavery. But this is a type of slavery of another kind. While in orthodox slavery people were sacrificed to foreigners, in this slavery, land is sacrificed and local ownership is lost along with local sovereignty. The political elite who are facilitating the land grabs want everyone to believe it is development.
In Africa, land is owned communally – according to ethnic/tribal groupings. A small percentage is owned individually or privately. In Uganda, less than 35% of land is privately owned, with the remaining land held in common.
Most African nations do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take care of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps and other factors all too often undermine the position of local people when they are up against multinational companies working hand-in-glove with the political elite. The people become slaves in their own countries.
Land grabbing is the large-scale purchase or lease of farmland usually to outside interests. It is often described as using only idle, under-utilized and or uncultivated land. In Uganda it is the top leadership that initiates the land grabs for global land thieves. Whole communities are being displaced and scattered.
The major global driving force behind land grabbing is food security. The practice purportedly aims at increasing food production to feed the growing global population and targets mostly valuable land –fertile farm lands, forest land, water bodies, and land where high-value extractable minerals are found. For example, in the Albertine region in Western Uganda where large deposits of crude oil were recently discovered, many communities have already transferred their land rights to powerful Ugandan elites and foreigners.
In Africa, where land grabs are most pronounced today, there is in reality no idle land anywhere. To some extent, there is uncultivated and or underutilized land in some parts of Africa, but this does not justify usurping land rights from the rightful owners at a give-away price or no cost at all to those who want to put the land to a more profitable use. In any case, “putting land to profitable use” frequently translates into destruction of nature and converting semi-wild land into vast monocultures. The trees that are being imposed onto the local landscapes –Pine and Eucalyptus – create biological deserts that ultimately help to extend Sahara Desert southward. These agribusinesses are often high water users, destructive to the soil, and using highly polluting agrichemicals.
Governments have increasingly sought to take over plots of land on behalf of business, using the doctrine of Eminent Domain, or compulsory purchase. However, under the United Nations human rights system, governments are expected to seek the free prior informed consent of local populations though debates continue over whether “consent” is too high a standard and “consultation” is a more reasonable benchmark.
Sustainable development is not a reality unless it includes respect for human and land rights. Land is central to people’s identity, livelihoods and food security. It is also central to sustainability – be it cultural, economic or social – because it forms the physical basis of sustainability. Unfortunately laws and policies being designed today in Africa in general and Uganda in particular seem to have as a primary goal the stifling of human and land rights in the quest to make it easy to grab land.
Large-scale land acquisitions under plantation agriculture appear to recognize host communities only in the form of semi-skilled class of farm laborers, while others are marginalized or displaced. Sadly, local communities are rarely adequately informed about the land concessions that are made to private companies. Besides, the food grown on such land from Africa does not benefit the hungry and malnourished populations in Africa; it is nearly always for export.
Multinational companies have taken advantage of unclear legal frameworks and community ignorance to easily acquire millions of hectares of land with the backing of some states. Besides, after acquiring large areas of land, they often enjoy tax exemptions, repatriation of profits; no export restrictions and other subsidies in exchange for the kickbacks they offer.
In Uganda, for example, since the 1990s, government has enabled foreign firms to acquire large areas of natural forests and farm land to foreign investors under the pretest of development. BIDCO Uganda Ltd, a subsidiary of BIDCO Kenya, a Malaysian Company acquired over 30,000 hectares of natural forest land in Kalangala Islands in Lake Victoria to establish palm oil plantations with financial support from the World Bank.
The project promised jobs to local youth but the jobs have not come. It promised tarmac roads, electricity and health centers but these have not yet been provided. Operations of BIDCO are leading to pollution of water and fisheries by chemical fertilizers; dwindling of common forests on public land accompanied by cultural erosion; food insecurity, spiraling food prices; malnutrition; population displacement and changes to the local climate.. Expansion of BIDCOs plantations will lead to the destruction of the legally recommended 200m buffer zone (i.e. from the shore of Lake Victoria to lowest edge of plantations) and a decline in tourism. Malaria infection is on the rise as forest cover and climate change effects proliferate on the island.
The Ugandan Government has also attempted to sell Mabira natural forest reserve in central Uganda to foreign investors to establish a sugar cane plantation, but have met stiff resistance from the citizens backed by the international community. For now, Ugandans can say they have won that battle but the war is still on. Who knows? The power of money may eventually eat up the forest. Government’s reason for sacrificing this important ecosystem is the rising price of sugar!
The Madhvani Group of Companies (an Indian Company), with backing of government, has recently been given by government over 40,000 hectares of communal land in northern Uganda to establish a sugar cane plantation and build a sugar factory. The Madhvani Group says they want to increase sugar production and address the soaring sugar prices in the country. However there is a thriving school of thought especially among civil society that believes government and Madhvani have entered in secret deals with some foreigners to grow sugar cane for agro-fuels. The affected communities, backed by the area politicians, resisted the land grab and have since dragged the company to the courts of law. Despite all this, land grabbing continues in Uganda.
The power of food security in development and socio-political stability should not be but is being underestimated by governments of Africa. Food security will continue to be used as a political weapon by the land grabbers to hoodwink African governments and their peoples into relinquishing their land rights for peanut payments. This reason has been used in many Africa countries – Gabon, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan … name it. And the land has gone and gone forever. It is now part of other countries producing food primarily to feed citizens of those countries. What still remains cannot sustain food security!
We know the problem, but what are the solutions?
Individuals and communities have a continuous relationship with the land they live on and benefit from. Some have legal rights, other don’t. After a deal has been struck, some individuals and groups are willing to move, some aren’t; some are willing to negotiate a better price or other terms of resettlement, and some prefer defending their rights using all the means at their disposal. This all depends on how transparent the process has been. Communities need to be involved from the beginning.
When communities refuse to move, a company may turn to the State for assistance. In some such cases, the State may decide to deploy force, a step which has often led to human rights violations, sometimes grave ones. Such a contentious process violates many human rights, such as the right of peaceful protest, the right of participation, the right to property, the right to life, the right to equality before law, and the right to an adequate standard of living. The communities must know their rights, including the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children.
All companies have human rights responsibilities and should be aware of inherent risks of being complacent in actions governments take claiming they do so to ensure development, but which instead lead to abuses. For example, when the state (or its agents) uses force to secure land for public or private use, it is illegitimate and illogical when measured against internationally guidelines.
Under the United Nations “Protect, Respect, Remedy” framework for business and human rights, all companies have the responsibility to respect human rights. Business interests should not infringe upon the rights of others, and should undertake due diligence before and during any business activity, to ensure that its actions are consistent with its responsibility to respect human rights. Companies must adhere and meet their obligations. This is part of the greater solution to land grabbing: respect for human rights.
Without observing this, our future food security and survival is doomed.