Oxfam warns of rising land grabs in developing nations

5 Oct 2012

The Sydney Morning Herald


LAND purchases by rich nations in the developing world are swallowing up as much as a third of some African states, undercutting efforts to raise food production, Oxfam has warned.

Poverty ... an African woman with her child. Photo: Greg Newington Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/oxfam-warns-of-rising-land-grabs-in-developing-nations-20121004-2727y.html#ixzz28fKNYhJ8

The charity demanded an immediate moratorium on World Bank funding for the acquisition of land, saying its figures showed an area the size of London was being sold to foreign investors every six days.

The World Bank has tripled its lending to land deals over the past decade to more than $US8 billion.


''The World Bank is in a unique position to help stop land grabs becoming one of the biggest scandals of the century,'' said Barbara Stocking, the chief executive of Oxfam. ''Investment should be good news for developing countries, not lead to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.''


Land investment in Africa has grown by a factor of two as food prices rise and Persian Gulf states join Asian economies in trying to secure food and energy supplies through direct investment.


Liberia, a war-torn and impoverished West African country, has sold more than 30 per cent of its land mass in the past five years.


Oxfam also plans to ask the British government to push for global rules setting limits on the scope of acquisitions when it chairs the G8 group of nations next year.


Two-thirds of the land acquired by rich nation investors over the past decade is in Africa, the continent with the greatest food needs. The total acreage transferred to sovereign wealth funds, multinational food producers and even hedge funds could provide food for 1 billion people, Oxfam says.


Researchers found that in the three years between 2007 and 2009, only 7 per cent of land in Mozambique transferred to agricultural investors was planted with food crops. At the time, more than a third of families there did not have enough food.


Alarm has been expressed about a trend to grow biofuels on the land. In other cases, countries have negotiated the right to export all production, even if a famine strikes the host country.


An Oxfam spokesman said 60 per cent of output from land acquired by foreign investors in developing nations was for export. ''It's not growing food for the benefit of the local population,'' he said.


Despite its strident opposition to the sales, Oxfam has made no study of the economic impact on developing nations of freezing investment.


The investments have been one of the strongest trends in Africa's economic renaissance over the past decade.


The World Bank said it rejected Oxfam's moratorium demands, while sharing its desire for investments to benefit locals. ''Taking such a step would do nothing to help reduce the instances of abusive practices and would likely deter responsible investors willing to apply our high standards,'' it said.