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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.

Overview

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.

Publications

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Stealth Game: "Community" Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya

Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — reveals the devastating impact of privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism on Indigenous pastoralist communities. Although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used, the report exposes how the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and...

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The Looming Threat of Eviction: The Continued Displacement of the Maasai Under the Guise of Conservation in Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Looming Threat of Eviction: The Continued Displacement of the Maasai Under the Guise of Conservation in Ngorongoro Conservation Area , reveals the Tanzanian government’s plans to evict over 80,000 residents — mostly Indigenous Maasai from their land, further restrict the livelihoods of those remaining, and destroy buildings in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). Announced in April 2021, evictions of local residents are scheduled...

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Doing Business With the Bolloré Group

Violations of the United Nations' Principle and Code of Conduct The Bolloré Group is a major supplier to the United Nations. The UN pays Bolloré over US$50 million every year for logistics and other services. Between 2015 and 2019, different UN entities — including the UN Procurement Division, the World Food Programme, and UNICEF signed over 200 contracts with the Group for a value of over a quarter billion dollars. In...

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In King Leopold’s Steps: The Investors Bankrolling the PHC Oil Palm Plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As community efforts to reclaim 100,000 hectares of their ancestral land, initially seized over a century ago for oil palm plantations, are met with violent repression, unlawful arrests, and murder, In King Leopold's Steps: The Investors Bankrolling the PHC Oil Palm Plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo unveils the names of the investors financing the plantations in the DRC.

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Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka

Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka , brings forth shocking new evidence on the extent of the continued persecution of the minority Tamil population in the North and East of the country. Under the guise of “development projects,” government driven Sinhalese colonization is growing within Tamil areas with the intent to change demographics and deny Tamil communities access to their land...

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Blog

A boma in the Ngorongoro District

Indigenous Peoples Must Be at the Center of Global Conservation Efforts

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 Ben Reicher

At its annual meeting on July 16-31, 2021, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will discuss protection of the world’s most priceless cultural landmarks. A critical issue for this discussion is whether the voice of Indigenous communities, for whom some of these protected areas are home, will be audible and considered.

The Oakland Institute's research team visiting impacted Miskitu communities living beside the Rio Co

Amid the Political Crisis in Nicaragua, Foreign Gold Mining Companies Amplify the Repression

Tuesday, July 13, 2021 Josh Mayer and Anuradha Mittal

Indigenous and Afro-descendant people in Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast region face violence fueled by an alliance between the government and mining companies.

Plantation at Bukaleba. Credit: Kristen Lyons

Security for the Big Polluters: Plantation Forestry for Carbon Offset Delays Action on Climate

Tuesday, July 6, 2021 Kristen Lyons

Kristen Lyons investigates how climate policies such as carbon offsets simply provide security for big polluters, while leaving our planet in danger.

Farmers lead protest against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, January, 9th 2021.

Fuel on the Fire: The World Bank’s Complicity in Duterte’s War on Farmers in the Philippines

Tuesday, January 26, 2021 Andy Currier

The government’s development strategy prioritizes a "modern" export-oriented commercial agriculture system that directly threatens farmers' and Indigenous Peoples' right to land and life. Those who organize and resist are killed or imprisoned with impunity in President Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines.

USAID project mapping and titling land in Petauke, Zambia in July 2018. Photo: Sandra Coburn

Land Unchained?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 Andy Currier

Shifting land registries onto blockchain is a part of the broader move to "unlock the economic potential of land" in order to put more land and natural resources into exploitation by private interests.

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