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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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Dam and Sugar Plantations Yield Starvation and Death in Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley

The report sounds the alarm on the severe humanitarian crisis faced by Indigenous tribes in Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley and urges government and aid agencies to provide relief assistance.

Summit Carbon Solutions report cover

The Great Carbon Boondoggle: Inside the Struggle to Stop Summit's CO2 Pipeline

The Great Carbon Boondoggle: Inside the Struggle to Stop Summit’s CO2 Pipeline , unmasks the billion-dollar financial interests and high-level political ties driving the Midwest Carbon Express. Led by Summit Carbon Solutions, the project intends to build a 2,000-mile pipeline to carry CO2 across Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota, to eventually inject and store it underground in North Dakota. Having failed to...

Flawed Plans report cover

Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area builds on field research conducted at two relocation sites — Msomera village in Handeni district and Kitwai A and B villages in Simanjiro district — to reveal that the sites lack adequate water resources and grazing land while promises of improved social and health services by the government remain unfulfilled. Additionally, the report exposes the failure...

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The Midwest Carbon Express: A False Solution to the Climate Crisis

The report debunks the world’s largest proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) pipeline project and reveals the checkered history of the man behind it — Bruce Rastetter.

Drying Out African Lands report cover

Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa

As the escalating climate crisis threatens access to water for millions across Africa, Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa unveils the devastating impact of large-scale agricultural plantations on the right to water on the continent. Since the 2007-2008 food crisis, Africa has been the primary destination of private international investors for large-scale agriculture schemes...

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Blog

Samburu communities in Nantudu, Olidonyiro fearing evictions from community lands.

Protecting Human Rights is Essential to Conserving Nature

Thursday, December 9, 2021 Ben Reicher

So-called “conservation” — in the guise of tourism dollars as a development strategy — is denying basic rights for Indigenous pastoralists in Northern Kenya

Farmer protests against the land reform, December 2020.

Who Really Benefits from the Creation of a Land Market in Ukraine?

Friday, August 6, 2021 Ben Reicher and Frederic Mousseau

Imposing the creation of a land market in Ukraine will further concentrate control of land in the hands of oligarchs and large agribusinesses, while favoring the interests of foreign investors and banks.

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.

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