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Land Rights

The purchase and lease of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier nations and international private investors has led to debate about whether land investment is a tool for development or force of displacement.


Secure land tenure is not just crucial to have a place to call home — it is also the basis of the livelihood for billions of people, especially Indigenous communities, farmers, herders, and fisherfolk. For the majority in this world, land is the common good, which communities share, preserve, and manage collectively.

However, following the 2007-2008 high food price crisis and financial crisis. looking for the next commodity to invest in, “investors” including multinational corporations, private equity firms, and pension funds, swarmed in to take over lands around the world. Their goal has been to convert smallholder farms, grasslands, and forests into monoculture plantations, cattle ranches, and mines.

Faced with this threat, local communities and Indigenous groups have been on the frontline in the struggle against land grabbing and destructive practices. Their claim over land and their resistance to its takeover is viewed as an obstacle to investment and business. This is why many governments around the world are encouraged to adopt the Western capitalist notion of private land ownership. Adopting this notion would make land a commodity and lead to the creation of land markets so that land can be leased or sold and put into so-called “productive use” to “unlock its value.” The World Bank is a key actor in the push to privatize and commodify land. In 2017, its Enabling the Business of Agriculture report prescribed policy measures to governments in order to “enhance the productivity of land use” and encourage agribusiness expansion. These included formalizing private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, and systematizing the sale of public land by auction.

However, the lack of evidence of development outcomes associated with the introduction of private title systems makes it clear that the privatization of land has nothing to do with fighting poverty or improving livelihoods. The “creation” of land markets has actually been repeatedly found to solidify existing inequalities in access to land. Within a market system where land is nothing more than a commodity, corporations and wealthy individuals can price farmers and herders, who rely on land for their livelihoods, out of the markets.

Whether it is through large-scale extractive or agricultural projects, urban expansion, or privatization schemes that transform land into a marketable commodity, the threats to land rights are multiple and severe, driving the displacement of local communities and the destruction of their livelihoods.

What we are doing about it
  • The Oakland Institute is a leading voice on land rights issues, working on the front line of the struggle to defend land rights, uncovering the drivers, the actors, and the impacts of land grabbing around the world.

  • Through research, policy analysis, and advocacy campaigns, we work directly with communities to defend their land rights when threatened by governments, private corporations, and international development institutions.

  • On the policy level, the Institute produces research and evidence that promote tenure systems, which ensure the land rights of communities, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, and pastoralists.


Coverpage of the report

Capitalizing on Chaos: Thomson Safaris Tightens its Stranglehold Over Indigenous Lands in Tanzania

Boston-based Thomson Safaris is exploiting the Tanzanian government’s brutal repression of land defenders to legitimize control over Maasai land in the Loliondo Division of the Ngorongoro District. In June 2022, the government carried out land demarcation to create a Game Reserve in Loliondo, which saw security forces fire live ammunition on the Maasai, severely wounding dozens and displacing thousands. In the immediate aftermath of these events...

The cover of the brief

Pulling Back the Curtain: How the US Drives Tanzania’s War on the Indigenous

This brief reveals how Tanzania’s largest bilateral donor has been instrumental in designing the country’s aggressive strategy to expand the tourism industry at the expense of Indigenous communities. It details how the US is behind a number of policy changes and measures that have led to the expansion of so-called protected areas and favored private operators, including fiscal measures to their benefit. USAID has for instance prepared...

Cover image of this report, Nicaragua's Gold Rush

Nicaragua's Gold Rush

In a new report, Nicaragua’s Gold Rush , the Oakland Institute exposes how, despite US sanctions on Nicaragua’s gold mining sector, the industry has boomed, fueled by foreign business interests. The US is the primary destination, accounting for a staggering 79 percent of total Nicaraguan gold exports. The US government issued sanctions against state-owned mining company ENIMINAS in June 2022, accusing the Ortega-Murillo regime of “using gold...

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regrow tanzania report cover image

Unaccountable & Complicit: The World Bank Finances Evictions & Human Rights Abuses In Tanzania

Unaccountable & Complicit: The World Bank Finances Evictions & Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania denounces the World Bank’s role in the violent conservation activities underway around the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA).

Report cover

Green Colonialism 2.0: Tree Plantations and Carbon Offsets in Africa

Green Colonialism 2.0: Tree Plantations and Carbon Offsets in Africa examines the African Forestry Impact Platform (AFIP) bankrolled by European development finance institutions, Japanese oil interests, and an Australian investment firm. The AFIP exemplifies the green colonialism that President Ruto of Kenya is promoting on the continent — opening the door for more extraction of Africa's resources. Despite AFIP’s claim of promoting...



A crowd of over 700 Maasai in red robes seated on a green plain

The Epic Tanzania Tour – Sportswashing Abuses Against the Maasai

Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Eve Devillers

Beneath John and Patrick McEnroe's Epic Tanzania Tour's veneer of luxury and a special, one-of-a-kind experience, lurks a grim reality.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres observes the WFP ship SSI Invincible 2

The Black Sea Grain Initiative: When the United Nations Brokers Profits for Corporations, Bankers, and Oligarchs

Friday, May 19, 2023 Frederic Mousseau

The top destination for Ukraine's agricultural exports is the European Union, with China being second. Spain is the largest recipient in Europe. Instead of offering relief, Ukrainian exports are threatening the livelihoods of millions of European farmers.

Maasai herders with their cattle inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

This Human Rights Day, Stand with the Maasai to End Fortress Conservation

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Western conservation industry is advancing plans that threaten to eliminate the basic rights of millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world.

Community members of Mwingi

Comment l'exploitation coloniale se perpétue dans les Plantations de Palmiers à Huile PHC en RDC

Tuesday, May 3, 2022 Andy Currier

Les communautés de Lokutu, Yaligimba et Boteka ont attendu trop longtemps que leurs droits à la terre et à la vie soient restaurés. Les investisseurs doivent être mis devant leurs responsabilités pour leur inaction.

Community members of Mwingi

Colonial Legacy of Exploitation Thrives Today on the PHC Oil Palm Plantations

Tuesday, May 3, 2022 Andy Currier

The Lokutu, Yaligimba, and Boteka communities have waited far too long for their rights to land and life to be restored; investors must be held responsible for their continued inaction