A massive international land grab is now underway as investors and national governments buy up millions of acres of farmlands in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It amounts to an unprecedented and novel set of enclosures of worldwide land, much of it customary land that rural communities use and manage collectively.
Hundreds of millions of rural poor people rely upon the land for their families’ food, water and material — but they don’t have formal property rights in the land. Those rights typically belong to the government, which is authorizing the sale of “unowned” lands or “wastelands” to investors, who will then use the land for market-based farming or biofuels production.
The implications for global hunger and poverty are enormous. Instead of commoners having local authority to grow and harvest their own food, they are being thrown off the land so that large multinational corporations and investors can feed their own countries or make a speculative killing on the world land market. A commons is converted into a market, with all the attendant pathologies.
The 2008 financial crisis and the recent round of rising food prices on world markets have spurred much of the interest in buying up arable lands in poor countries. Food-insecure countries figure they should take care of their own future even if it means depriving commoners in poor nations thousands of miles away. So Saudi Arabia is spending $1 billion for 700,000 hectares of land in Africa for rice cultivation. South Korea is buying up 700,000 hectares of African land as well. India is assembling investment pools to buy up farmlands.
These are some of the disturbing facts to be found in Liz Alden Wily’s remarkable report, “The Tragedy of Public Lands: The Fate of the Commons Under Global Commercial Pressure,” released by the International Land Coalition in January 2011.
A copy of Liz Alden Wily’s report can be downloaded here as a pdf file. Farm Land Grab is also closely monitoring this odious, little-known enclosure of the commons. Finally, see a report by GRAIN, a small international NGO concerned about farmers’ control over biodiversity and local knowledge: “Seized: The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Security.”
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