Oakland Institute

Reframing the Debate Inspiring Action

  • August 23, 2016
    As Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian marathon runner, crossed the finish line on Sunday, winning silver for his country at the Rio Olympics, his hands were crossed high above his head. To some viewers, it might have been a symbol of triumph at the end of a long race. But to those following the political turmoil in Ethiopia, it was a heroic – and dangerous – political act, sending a message globally about the plight of his people. read more
  • July 30, 2016

    The European Union and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development are funding a €3.8 million ($4.2 million) agricultural initiative in Ethiopia. "Support to Responsible Agricultural Investment" (S2RAI), launched in March 2016, is a three-year long project focused on two western regions of Ethiopia: Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz. According to documents made public at the project-launching workshop in Bishoftu on July 15-16, 2016, S2RAI’s main purpose is to contribute to "improved food and nutrition security by promoting secure land tenure and responsible agricultural investments." Yet, the project overlooks key facts with regard to food security, land, and the political situation in Ethiopia, which discredit this official objective.read more

  • April 20, 2016
    An alluring cast of speakers including the First Lady Michelle Obama, Queen Rania of Jordan, John Kerry, and Ban Ki-moon, among others, spoke at last week’s World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC. Bill Gates was the guest star of the Bank’s final live-cast panel discussion, “A New Vision for Financing Development with Bill Gates.”read more
  • March 25, 2016
    Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby The Paris climate talks at the end of 2015 no doubt left some feeling as though global politics might have turned a little green. With a Climate Agreement aiming at keeping global temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, national governments have some heavy lifting to do in cutting emissions. The green economy—including carbon markets and other payments for ecosystem services—is being championed as the ‘solution’ to meeting this target, alongside expanding the renewable energy sector. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) and related projects, and with a strong focus on developing countries, is part of what Naomi Klein calls the new ‘Gaia capitalism’; where making money is directly tied to saving the planet. But if that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is! read more
  • March 21, 2016
    President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat of deceased Justice Antonin Scalia may begin a new battle between parties, but its resolution could clearly solidify or sink the 2015 Paris Agreement for climate protection just signed by almost 200 nations. read more
  • March 14, 2016

    The 17th World Bank “Conference on Land and Poverty,” bringing together governments, academics, corporations, and NGOs, gets underway on March 14, 2016, in Washington DC. Last March, members of the Our Land Our Business campaign denounced the Conference as a sham. The Bank holds an annual conference on land and poverty whereas its policies such as the business indicators facilitate land grabs by forcing developing countries to adopt “business-friendly” regulations. The list is long of World Bank-funded projects in Uganda, Honduras, Cambodia, Peru and Kenya, among many other countries, which have resulted in forced evictions and human rights abuses.read more

  • February 4, 2016
    In December 2015, bloodied cow heads welcomed Ukrainian politicians as they attended their last sessions of Parliament for the year. These and other graphic protests were part of a country-wide strike by Ukrainian farmers, who were protesting changes in Ukraine’s tax code that would end a special value-added tax (VAT) system for agriculture. These changes are part of the structural adjustment conditionalities laid out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and represent yet another threat to Ukrainian farmers.read more
  • December 9, 2015

    Agricultural development is central to addressing some of the biggest challenges today: climate change, hunger, poverty, need for rural employment, and managing access to land and natural resources. According to the World Bank, climate change could push 100 million people into poverty in the next 15 years. Farmers will be the primary victims, affected by reduced rainfall, crop failure, heat waves, and floods. Yet, instead of investing in small-scale farmers, who produce over 70 percent of the food consumed in the world and practice sustainable agriculture, the World Bank’s programs push for a wide adoption of industrial agriculture techniques involving fossil-based chemical inputs, modified seeds etc.read more

  • July 1, 2015
    Contract farming and outgrower schemes are two terms used interchangeably to describe contractual agreements between farmers (outgrowers) and firms (offtakers). In contract farming, the outgrower agrees to provide a pre-determined quantity of a product at a given time and price, meeting the quality standards set by the offtaker. In return, the firm commits to purchasing the product and sometimes supports the production, for instance through the sale or the loan of agricultural inputs (e.g. seeds, fertilizers, pesticides).read more
  • May 8, 2015

    The fate of Ukraine’s agricultural sector is on shaky ground. Last year, the Oakland Institute reported that over 1.6 million hectares (ha) of land in Ukraine are now under the control of foreign-based corporations. Further research has allowed for the identification of additional foreign investments. Some estimates now bring the total of Ukrainian farmland controlled by foreign companies to over 2.2 million ha;1 however, research has also identified important grey areas around land tenure in the country, and who actually controls land in Ukraine today is difficult to ascertain.read more

  • March 17, 2015

    On March 2, 2015, the Ukrainian government passed amendments to its 2015 budget that will cripple the economic well being of most Ukrainians, but satisfy the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the cost of their pensions, tax increases, sky-rocketing energy bills, and a re-organized banking sector, Ukrainians are now poised to get an IMF-led bailout of up to $40 billion. These austerity measures will have a huge adverse impact – with inflation soaring, many citizens of Ukraine already face dwindling financial reserves. Increases in taxes, energy bills, and lost pensions, are enough to throw any family into financial turmoil.read more

  • March 5, 2015

    Is the 2015 “Iowa Agriculture Summit” really a bi-partisan forum to promote agriculture, or yet another scheme devised by multi-millionaire Iowan Bruce Rastetter to hijack issues impacting farmers and agriculture for his self-serving political and economic agenda?

    Billed as an event to stimulate public discussion on “matters that directly affect Iowa farmers who feed and fuel not just the country, but the world,” several potential 2016 Presidential candidates have signed up for the event. A close look at the confirmed participants–Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and other GOP hopefuls–lays bare the play of partisan politics organized by Mr. Rastetter.read more

  • January 28, 2015

    The debate over large scale land investments in Africa is shifting its focus away from the disastrous impact of land grabs on the social fabric of the communities to the need for African governments to deal with citizens’ outrage over land expropriation by developing a ‘land policy’.

    At the November 2014 Addis Ababa Land Policy Conference, officials from the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank called on African governments to implement the “Guiding Principles for Large Scale Land Based Investments in Africa,” (GPLSLI). Even the World Bank went so far as to consider “Integrating Land Governance into the Post-2015 Development Agenda” during its 2014 annual conference on Land and Poverty. New concepts of development have emerged out of these conferences including “empowering women through land tenure,” “land policy and development,” and “land policy as an opportunity for Africa’s structural transformation.” Although catchy, this new development vocabulary veils an attempt to institutionalize land grabs by foreign investors at the expense of local communities and farmers.read more

  • November 9, 2014

    The recent release of our report has engendered a written response from Green Resources’ CEO, Mr Mads Asprem, received on November 3, 2014. Here we clarify a number of issues he has raised.

    To begin, Mr Asprem claims that Associate Professor Kristen Lyons and Dr. Peter Westoby misrepresented themselves as students while working in Uganda, and in their approach to engaging with him and/or Green Resources staff. With over twenty years experience working as social researchers in international contexts, the researchers have developed clear procedures related to professional conduct in the field. Given that Associate Professor Lyons met with the Ugandan Director of Green Resources, Mr. Isaac Kapalaga, at least four times over two years, it is strange that the company did not understand the researchers’ role and positions.read more

  • November 3, 2014

    Fremtiden i vare hender, Spire and Utviklingsfondet is arranging a ‘mini-seminar’ about Green Resources’ Ugandan operation in Oslo on 4 November without inviting Green Resources. Green Resources is Africa’s leading reforestation company, having established more than 40,000 ha of plantation forests. We are a commercial forestry company that has sequestrated millions of CO2e, and created large environmental and social co-benefits. It is ironic that less than a week after the publication of possibly the most serious report ever to be publish on the negative effects of climate change by IPCC, Fremtiden i vare hender and Utviklingsfondet chose to attack what may be East Africa’s most successful private effort to combat climate change.read more

  • October 10, 2014

    Ruth Nyambara has travelled to Washington, DC to participate in a panel, The Role of the World Bank Indicators in Agricultural Development, organized by the Oakland Institute at the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum on October 10, 2014. She will also join the #WorldVsBank action outside the Bank at Rawlins Park, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington DC at 4 pm.read more

  • October 10, 2014

    As the World Bank representatives gather in Washington D.C. October 10-12, 2014, will it be business as usual, or will the Bank finally pay heed to a growing movement demanding food sovereignty?

    The World Bank withdrew its much-criticized Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in 2002 in response to global protests against the imposition of neoliberal reforms on developing countries. However, the harmful guiding principles of the SAPs continue on through the Bank’s Doing Business (DB) index. Established in 2002, the DB ranks countries based on whether their regulatory environment is “business friendly” and as such influences investors and bilateral donors around the world. The DB model has been reproduced to create a set of benchmarking instruments, such as the Investing Across Borders report in 2010 [1] and the Agribusiness Indicators pilot project the same year. Most recently, in 2013, the World Bank created the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) project at the G8’s urging to “develop options for generating a Doing Business in Agriculture index.” [2]read more

  • May 21, 2014

    Senhuile, a foreign-owned agriculture company operating in Senegal, announced on April 28, 2014 that it had “revoked” its CEO Benjamin Dummai. A few weeks later Senegalese authorities arrested Dummai on charges of embezzling almost half a million dollars. Senhuile not only faces bankruptcy because of Dummai’s criminal behavior, but must also address the mounting pressure from local communities opposing its industrial agricultural plantations. Protestors have been unwavering in their opposition to the company’s illegitimate occupation of their land. The project has grabbed 20,000 hectares of environmentally protected land where over 9,000 people live and depend for their survival. Senhuile’s Italian shareholders, Tampieri Financial Group, have replaced Dummai with Massimo Castellucci, a finance manager who has been working for Tampieri for several years. 

    Dummai brought 30 years of business experience in diverse ventures in Latin America and Africa to Senhuile. He also brought a slew of suspicious connections and shady dealings. In Brazil, Dummai was charged with financial fraud, and he and his wife were found guilty of tax evasion. He operates several of the shell companies involved in the ownership of Senhuile, including ABE International, which was operated by Harmodio Herrera until Dummai took over in 2011. Herrera himself served as a front man to operate a slush fund that channeled 22 million...read more

  • May 7, 2014

    Two recent events suggest a promising reversal of land grabbing in Papua New Guinea (PNG). In the past 12 years, the amount of customary land in PNG decreased from 97 percent to 86 percent. This is because although customary land cannot be sold under PNG law, legal mechanisms, such as the Special Agricultural Business Lease (SABL) scheme, were developed for foreign investors to access the land. The SABL is a lease-lease back scheme established to allow customary landowners to lease land to the government, which it turn classifies it as “alienated land.” Under this designation, customary land regulations do not apply, and the “alienated land” can be leased out to investors. Leases made under the SABL scheme are supposed to be for agricultural development projects.read more

  • April 11, 2014

    In 2012, the G8 called for the World Bank “to develop options for generating a Doing Business in Agriculture index.” With funding from the Gates Foundation, the UK, US, and Dutch and Danish governments, the project emerged in 2013 under the name Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA). The BBA methodology builds on its model indicator, the Doing Business ranking, which was developed by the Bank almost 12 years ago with very damaging collateral impact on the agricultural sector of the developing countries. Initiated in late 2013, BBA pilot studies are underway in 10 countries, and will be scaled up to 40 countries in 2014. The indicator is expected to benchmark 80 to 100 countries by 2015.read more

  • April 7, 2014

    Launched in 2003, the World Bank’s annual Doing Business (DB) ranking system rates 189 countries on the “ease of doing business” within the country and pressures them to achieve higher rankings in subsequent reports by enacting neoliberal regulatory reforms. Despite its positive veneer, the report encourages governments to eliminate economic, social, and environmental safeguards and promotes competition among countries for higher rankings and, consequently, higher foreign direct investment. One impact of this benchmarking and deregulation has been large-scale land acquisition by foreign companies in the developing world.read more

  • March 6, 2014

    Large companies across the world are invading rural areas in developing countries, allegedly responding to a need for economic development, food security, and poverty alleviation. Such is the narrative of Senhuile, a shadowy company backed by a maze of foreign investors, which is operating in the natural protected area of Ndiaël in northwest Senegal. By establishing an agricultural plantation on land already used by rural communities, this foreign company will bring prosperity and harmony to impoverished rural villages--or so the story goes.read more

  • March 4, 2014

    Just look at the billions pouring into farmland from some of the deepest pockets in the financial sector. Rising interest from institutional investors such as hedge funds, pensions, and private equity firms is changing farmland from a mostly overlooked asset class into a potential global bubble. And, although media attention often falls on land deals in the developing world that are corrupt or even violent, the truth is that the global land rush is also being felt at home in rural communities across the US—and its effects on everything from farm access to food security could be immense.read more

  • December 23, 2013

    The holiday season can overwhelm us with its Christmas jingles on repeat and cheap decorations that crowd the aisles of every big box retailer. In between RSVPing to holiday parties and cleaning the house for visiting relatives, donating to food drives and charities can become just another chore on our list of obligations. Why open our pocketbooks and write yet another check? Are there Americans who really need our help?read more

  • December 12, 2013

    On October 14, 2013, the Norwegian Ministry of Finance announced its decision to exclude two Malaysian logging companies, WTK Holdings Berhad and Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, from its Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) portfolio. Its decision, based on the recommendation made by the Council on Ethics in June and December, 2012 (see here also), has been hailed internationally, given the severe environmental damage caused by the two companies on the island of Borneo, Malaysia.read more

  • November 27, 2013

    As families across the United States sit down for the Thanksgiving feast, many others will struggle to afford even basic food on this holiday. For a lot of Americans, hunger is a constant concern. Food insecurity, and malnutrition and hunger with it, has grown dramatically in recent years. In 2012, one out of every six, or 49 million, Americans was food insecure. [1] The magnitude of food insecurity renders the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more important than ever. Given SNAP's significance, the $40 billion cut to the program proposed by House Republicans will only increase the number of vulnerable Americans.read more

  • November 26, 2013

    On Our Land, a new report and documentary film on land grabbing in Papua New Guinea (PNG), exposes an alarming global black market in contraband wood that is used in kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms across Europe and the United States. Driven by demand for high-end furniture and flooring and aided by complex global laundering schemes, illegally felled timber is devastating forest-dependent communities, ravaging ecosystems, and depleting PNG of one of the country’s primary natural resources.read more

  • November 15, 2013

    “In a sense, Wola belong to land as much as it belongs to them.” Paul Sillitoe’s [1] consideration about the Wola farmers of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) brings us to the heart of a critical question: what is the value of land in a country like PNG? In the current context of land grabbing, why is it important to preserve traditional systems of tenure? In the West, people understand land as a private piece of territory with a title deed attached to it, but in PNG there are additional economic, social and spiritual dimensions to land.read more

  • October 22, 2013

    Africa’s arable lands continue to receive growing attention for research and policy debate mainly due to the pressing social, political, and environmental challenges that African countries face with regard to food insecurity and foreign direct investments. “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity: A Program to Scale Up Reforms and Investments,” a book published by the World Bank and authored by Frank Byamugisha, is the latest in this debate’s odyssey. The book argues that the challenges of Africa’s land policies are technical rather than political, and suggests that demarcating land boundaries, formalizing property rights, and addressing inequities in ownership will indeed bring solutions to Africa so that it can reach “social stability, achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, and protect natural resources from irrational use and pollution” (Byamugisha, 2013).read more

  • October 1, 2013

    According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Washington should care for the generations ahead. Yet, his recent austerity measure undermines investment in America’s future. If the $40 billion cut to the existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the House of Representatives should pass in the Senate, the government will have failed the nation’s poor.read more

  • September 23, 2013

    Released on July 22, 2013, the World Bank’s report, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity, provides a ten-step program to “boost governance,” “step up comprehensive policy reforms,” and “accelerate shared and sustained growth for poverty reduction” in sub-Saharan Africa. [1] At first glance, these ambitious objectives, aimed at addressing the ongoing crisis of land grabbing on the African continent seem promising; however, the report’s substance fails to deliver.read more

  • July 3, 2013

    While the United States Senate made final tweaks to pass its highly publicized immigration reform bill S.744 last Thursday, community members in the San Francisco Bay Area protested the firing of hundreds of undocumented immigrant workers.

    On June 11, 2013, fired workers and their supporters participated in a 72-hour hunger strike in San Jose and Oakland, California. This “Fast Against the Firings” drew attention to the insidious effects of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department’s continued policies requiring local employers to fire workers who do not have proper immigration papers. Fasters and community members held signs reading “Trabajar No Es Un Crimen!” (Work is Not a Crime) and condemned S.744’s proposal for a mandatory e-verify program as part of the immigration reform legislation. According to Reverend Deborah Lee, a faster and the Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, more than 50 people participated in the fast.read more

  • June 5, 2013

    Bruce Wrobel, the CEO of Herakles Farms and founder of the nonprofit organization All for Africa, is a self-proclaimed “environmentalist and activist for the poor.” Upon first glance, his initiatives in Africa seem to support these claims--but scratch the surface and the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. A new report by the Oakland Institute and Greenpeace, Herakles Exposed, reveals the company’s internal documents that highlight the discrepancy between the image Bruce Wrobel hopes to cultivate and his company’s actual practices. As shown in the report, Herakles Farms not only sidesteps sustainable practices, but also appears to be caught in an unstable financial situation in spite of its attempts to bypass responsible social and ecological practices.read more

  • May 30, 2013

    Herakles Farms doesn’t seem to value providing straightforward information or answers to the Cameroonian government, the local population impacted by their palm oil plantation in Southwest Cameroon, nor their own investors. Which version of the company’s own documents are we to believe when they present completely opposite information depending on the audience?read more

  • May 8, 2013

    The just-released 2012 Human Rights Practices country report for Ethiopia, compiled by the US State Department, confirms an uncomfortable fact—most US government officials are aware of the repressive nature of Ethiopia’s US-backed regime. The State Department document recognizes reports of unlawful (politically-motivated) detention, instances of torture, political use of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, and the often-unchecked use of force by the national security forces. Yet, Ethiopia remains among the largest recipients of US aid in Africa. Ethiopia receives on average $3 billion in annual development assistance from international funders—with an average of $800 million coming from the US. Why, then, do development aid officials resist calls for rigorous and independent investigations into how these funds are used and also dismiss charges of forced resettlement and the “political capture” of development assistance by the Ethiopian ruling party?read more

  • March 14, 2013

    In early February, the Oakland Institute organized a three-day forum in New Delhi with the Indian Social Action Forum, Kalpavriksh, and Centre for Social Development on the impact of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia and India by private enterprises on indigenous communities in both countries. Since 2008, Ethiopia has leased out nearly 600,000 hectares of farmland to Indian agribusinesses--the largest share of investors in the country--to grow a range of export crops including cereals, pulses, and edible oils. 

    Originally, the plan was to hold a panel discussion on the first day between Indian policy makers, investors, and development and research organizations. But relevant Indian ministries and executives of major Indian investors in Ethiopian land--Karuturi Global, Ruchi Soya, and Emami Biotech--either declined or did not respond to the invitation or follow ups to attend the event. This was unfortunate. The hope was to have researchers, policymakers and business leaders discuss both the empirical evidence coming out of field investigations on current projects as well as ideas on the best policy framework for economic development in Ethiopia, and in Global South countries in general, since land investments in largely agrarian countries will inevitably impact rural...read more

  • February 19, 2013

    As part of the Oakland Institute’s (OI) continued research and reporting on the ever unfolding and unfortunately more distressing news coming out of Ethiopia, OI recently published a new briefing paper titled Unheard Voices: The Human Rights Impact of Land Investments on Indigenous Communities in Gambella. Prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law, this briefing paper provides an overview of the human rights impacts of land investment and the villagization process on the indigenous Anuak community in Ethiopia’s Gambella region.read more

  • February 5, 2013

    Mounting evidence indisputably shows that the brand of agricultural investment spreading in Ethiopia is accompanied by, or rather dependent upon, military violence and the suppression of civil rights.read more

  • October 14, 2012

    The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s report, State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012, was released on October 9, 2012. Although one might be tempted to celebrate the decrease in the number of undernourished people from nearly 1 billion in 2009 to 870 million today, this new report is not a harbinger of good news.read more

  • October 1, 2012

    Beatings, rape, and torture have become the new normal for many living in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. New reporting by Human Rights Watch (HRW), sheds light on the current living conditions of Ethiopians in the Gambella region as a result of the government’s villagization program. Marred in human rights abuses in the aftermath of an unfortunate shooting that left five Saudi Star employees dead this June, the Ethiopian government has retaliated with arbitrary arrests, beatings, and rape. Oakland Institute (OI) and HRW have done extensive research in the Gambella region and this new report shows a continued pattern of abuse by the government.read more

  • As part of the Oakland Institute's mission to bring fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues of our time, we are launching a blog that will feature coverage of fast-changing focus areas such as land rights, the high food price crisis, food sovereignty, and more, as well as analysis and opinion articles by the Institute's international staff, fellows, and researchers.

    Our hard-hitting reports and research have exposed insidious land grabs in Africa, pushed university endowments to divest from exploitative funds, halted the eviction of hundreds of thousands of small farmers, and made the case that emergency food aid should be bought locally or regionally--but there is always more to share on these swiftly evolving issues.

    We invite you to subscribe to the OI blog to stay in touch with the latest news from the ground and up-to-the-minute expert assessment of policy developments and breaking action on the ground.

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