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The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Press Release

For Immediate Release : October 8, 2009

Contact: Anuradha Mittal (510)469-5228; [email protected]

 A New Report Exposes the Role of International Financial Institutions in the Expansion of Land Grabs 

The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor

Oakland CA: In a new report, The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor, the Oakland Institute sounds the alarm on the threat that land grabbing poses to food security and livelihoods. Land grabs--the purchase of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors--have become a widespread phenomenon, with foreign interests seeking or securing between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland between 2006 and the middle of 2009. While such land grabs have not gone unnoticed, much attention has focused on individual countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, buying land in poor nations. The Great Land Grab lays bare the insidious role played by international financial institutions like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank and Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS), as well as rich nations, in promoting and facilitating this widespread land reappropriation--all in the name of promoting food security through foreign investment in agriculture.

The report concludes that the current debate surrounding the land grab phenomenon fails to adequately and rigorously examine the consequences of this trend, and exposes how the huge sell-offs of resources undermines food security and land reform efforts. The authors implore that we question the assumption that increased investment in agriculture is beneficial for all parties involved.

“The history of foreign direct investment in agriculture reveals the plethora of social and economic problems that have plagued local citizens and belies the claims that the current land acquisitions will positively impact the development of poor nations,” said Shepard Daniel, fellow at the Oakland Institute and lead author of the report. “Throughout history, corporate agribusiness has been known to establish itself in developing countries with the effect of either driving independent farmers off their land or turning farmers into plantation workers. No matter how convincing the claim that these massive international acquisitions will bring much-needed agricultural investment to poor countries, evidence shows there is simply no place for the small farmer in the vast majority of these land grab situations that will only increase monoculture-based, export-oriented agriculture, further jeopardizing international food security,” she continued.

“Our report dismantles the myth of the 'win-win' argument that has been offered to quell concerns around this trend. A myopic focus on potential benefits, such as increased investment in agriculture in poor countries, is sidelining the issue of food security for the world’s poor and land reform from the forefront of the debate,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report. “Food security and the implementation of land reform policies are inextricably linked. There are 1.5 billion small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 hectares of land; secure and equitable access to and control over land allows these farmers to produce food, which is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world,” she continued.

The Great Land Grab critically examines the role of the private sector in agricultural development and exposes implications of private sector control over food resources. The report concludes that those who promote the benefits of private sector growth in agriculture fail to recognize that acquisition of crucial food-producing lands by foreign private entities poses a threat to rural economies and livelihoods, land reform agendas, and other efforts aimed at making access to food more equitable. “Much press coverage and research has focused on the food security motivations of food import-dependent countries,” said Daniel. “We forget, however, that the main thrust of investment is coming from the private sector, whose interests do not lie in establishing food security, but rather in making a profit in international food markets.”

An estimated 1.02 billion people—one sixth of humanity—suffer from chronic hunger, and, in one of the world's cruelest ironies, 70 percent of this starving population live and work on small-scale farms and in rural areas. To tackle the growing crisis of world hunger, policy makers and agriculture experts will gather at the World Food Summit in November 2009; preparation for the summit is revolving around increased investment in agriculture. However, as The Great Land Grab points out, there is a dangerous disconnect between increasing agricultural investment through rich countries amassing land in poor countries and the goal of secure and adequate food supplies for poor and vulnerable populations.

The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor is a publication of the Oakland Institute (, an independent policy think tank whose mission is to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues.

Download the Report