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.

The Facts

Over the last eight years, there has been a significant increase in land-based investment, both in terms of the number of investment projects and the total land area allocated. Industrialized nations and private foreign investors have driven demand for arable land in developing regions, particularly in Africa, but also in South America, and Asia-Pacific.

The lands offered to investors are frequently in use although occupants lack legal claims to the land and access to legal institutions. As demand for land assets increases and governments and multilateral institutions promote land investment, displacement and impact on livelihoods have become serious sources of concern.

What we are doing about it

The Oakland Institute is committed to increasing transparency about land deals including the terms of the deals, the actors involved, and the impact on people and the environment.

The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture cover

The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture

Today, on the heels of Ukraine’s new cabinet appointments, the Oakland Institute (OI) is releasing a new brief detailing western agribusiness investments in the country. In Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict, a report released in July 2014, the Oakland Institute exposed how international financial institutions swooped in on the heels of the political upheaval in Ukraine to deregulate and throw open...

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Engineering Ethnic Conflict: The Toll of Ethiopia's Plantation Development on Suri People

Recently dubbed “Africa’s Lion” (in allusion to the discourse around “Asian Tigers”), Ethiopia is celebrated for its steady economic growth, including a growing number of millionaires compared to other African nations. However, as documented in previous research by the Oakland Institute, the Ethiopian government’s “development strategy,” is founded on its policy of leasing millions of hectares (ha) of land to foreign investors. Implementation...

The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda

The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda

In recent years, there has been a significant trend toward land acquisition in developing countries, establishing forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution generated in the Global North. Badged as “green economic development,” global carbon markets are often championed not only as solutions to climate change, but as drivers of positive development outcomes for local communities. But there is mounting evidence that these corporate land...

The World Bank's Bad Business in Uganda

Uganda was the second best performing economy of the East African Community (EAC) in the 2013 Doing Business report, and the country is a good ally for the World Bank in the region. It was recently chosen as one of the pilot countries to test the Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) indicator, a project that aims to “help policy makers strengthen agribusiness globally, enabling the farm sector to participate more fully in...

The World Bank's Bad Business in Uruguay

In the years following the 2001 economic crisis, the World Bank has used Uruguay as the poster child of an economy that has become stronger after following its development model. The Bank pushed for financial sector changes, including developing capital markets (the buying and selling of long term debt and other mechanisms) to improve the investment climate in the country. At the 88th position out of 189 countries, Uruguay enjoys a “good”...

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The World Bank's Bad Business with Seed and Fertilizer in African Agriculture report cover

The World Bank's Bad Business with Seed and Fertilizer in African Agriculture

In its 2013 Growing Africa report, the World Bank argued “wider uptake and more intensive use of improved seed, fertilizer, and other inputs would go a long way to closing the African ‘agricultural performance deficit.’” The report goes on to advocate policy and regulation reforms claiming, “policy and regulatory barriers, including import restrictions and rigid, lengthy processes for releasing new varieties are slowing the adoption of...

Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank's Myths on Agriculture and Development report cover

Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank's Myths on Agriculture and Development

In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) intervention in developing countries’ national policies, through aid conditionality and austerity programs known as Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs), triggered a wave of global resistance against the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). in the face of growing criticism that these policies increased poverty, debt, and dependency on rich countries, saps...

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The World Bank's Bad Business in Cambodia cover

The World Bank's Bad Business in Cambodia

Since Cambodia was first ranked 145th in the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) ratings in 2008, it has only inched up slightly, moving to 137th in 2014. This deceptively low score belies the country’s deep deregulation in the hopes of attracting foreign investment. In 2014, the World Bank recognized Cambodia for being the South East Asian country most open to foreign direct investment (FDI), as well as the second largest recipient of FDI in...

The World Bank's Bad Business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) cover

The World Bank's Bad Business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Although it is among the world’s resource-richest countries, the DRC ranks at the bottom of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking (183rd out of 189 economies ranked in 2014), with the US Bureau of Business Affairs qualifying the country as “a highly challenging environment in which to do business.”1 Invasions sparking consecutive conflicts in 1996-1997 and 1998-2003, fueled by foreign interests over Congolese resources, have played a big...

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The World Bank's Bad Business in Kenya cover

The World Bank's Bad Business in Kenya

In 2008, the World Bank’s Doing Business program named Kenya one of its 10 Top Reformers, after the country had implemented a number of pro-business reforms. However, since then, the weakening investment climate and an “unsupportive” fiscal environment contributed to the Bank reconsidering Kenya’s inclusion in the Top Reformer group. Kenya dropped from 122nd out of 189 countries in the 2013 Doing Business ranking to 129th in the 2014...

The World Bank's Bad Business in Laos

Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a mountainous, land-locked state, identified as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDC). Since the year 2000, Laos has undergone an unprecedented transformation in rural land use, as government reforms facilitate growth through market-based economic strategies. The goal of the Laotian government is to graduate from LDC country status by 2020.

Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict

International financing has played a significant—although not always reported—role in the current conflict in Ukraine. In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

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We Harvest--You Profit: African Land Ltd's Land Deal in Sierra Leone

From rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the current obsession for agricultural land borders on speculative mania as private companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign wealth funds join the land rush looking for lucrative deals in the developing world. An estimated 500 million acres, an area about ten times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased in the developing world in the last decade. The social,...

World Bank's Bad Business in Mali

In 2013, Mali was classified among the African countries that made the most effort to improve their business climate since 2005 by the World Bank. Undeterred by the 2012-2013 political crisis, the country retained its top ranking out of the eight West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) nations in the Doing Business 2013 report. In 2014, Mali lost this leadership, coming at the 155th place, just behind Burkina Faso. The country,...

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World Bank's Bad Business in Honduras

In recent years, corporate investments in the agricultural sector and skewed land deals have been a source of intense conflicts with farmers, and have resulted in displacement, widespread human rights abuses, and murders. Yet, turning a blind eye to human rights and land rights violations, the World Bank continues to support agribusiness in the country through the provision of substantial loans.

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World Bank's Bad Business in Liberia

Since the first World Bank Doing Business survey in 2008, Liberia has implemented a series of reforms to improve the “ease of doing business in the country,” leading to its classification among the “top ten global reformers” of the 2010 Doing Business ranking. The subsequent worldwide advertisement of the country’s success attracted foreign direct investments (FDIs). In the agricultural sector, this resulted in giant palm oil and rubber...

World Bank's Bad Business in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Foreign direct investment in the country has more than doubled in past years, and the World Bank has been actively promoting foreign investment in the agricultural sector despite the numerous health, social, and environmental problems associated with industrial plantations in Nicaragua. One of the most damaging activities is the production of sugarcane for ethanol. The crop...

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World Bank's Bad Business in the Philippines

The Philippines is now hailed as a top ten reformer as a direct result of making economic, regulatory, and administrative policy changes following the advice and direction of the World Bank. As a result of these changes, in 2013 the Philippines became the third most popular destination for foreign investment in land in the world, with 5.2 million hectares acquired since 2006.

World Bank's Bad Business in Senegal

Senegal has made numerous reforms in an effort to garner a higher ranking in the Doing Business evaluation. The latest round of reforms, likely to be praised by the World Bank, favor land grabbing in Senegal, a country where large-scale land deals have become increasingly frequent in the recent years. Since the late 1980s, the World Bank has influenced the Senegalese public policy at the expense of households’ livelihoods, and in recent years...

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World Bank's Bad Business in Sierra Leone

Since 2004, the World Bank has provided continuous “investment climate advisory services” to Sierra Leone. Business reforms and Bank-piloted programs such as Sierra Leone Business Forum and the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency led to the World Bank classifying Sierra Leone among “the top 15 economies that improved their business regulatory environment the most” since 2005 and rank the country third in the regional “...

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Willful Blindness: How the World Bank's Doing Business Rankings Impoverish Smallholder Farmers

Established in 1944 with the objective of reducing poverty, the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance as well as advisory services to enhance development in poor and transitioning countries. Despite its praiseworthy goals, the World Bank’s activities and undue influence over policy making in developing countries have come under heavy criticism...

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World Bank's Bad Business in Sri Lanka

Despite unreconciled tensions following the three-decade-long civil war, militarization of the state, human rights violations, and more than 200,000 civilians in displacement camps, the World Bank generously increased Sri Lanka’s ranking in the Doing Business assessment in recent years. During and after the war, the Sri Lankan military seized large tracts of land through forced evictions and by occupying land abandoned by civilians fleeing...

World Bank's Bad Business in Guatemala

According to the World Bank, Guatemala is one of the countries most open to foreign direct investment (FDI). It is among the top ten global reformers, and the only country in Latin America to appear on the Doing Business 2014’s top reformers list. In the past four years, the government has made significant reforms to attract FDI. In the agricultural sector, increased FDI—due in part to the adoption of the Central American Free Trade Agreement...

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Surrendering Our Future: Senhuile-Senethanol Plantation Destroys Local Communities and Jeopardizes Environment

Senhuile-Senéthanol, an agribusiness company, has been setting up agro-industrial plantations in the Saint-Louis region of northwest Senegal since July 2010. Owned by a complex maze of companies and individuals with ties to numerous countries around the world, including Italy, United States, Brazil, and Panama, the company holds a lease for 20,000 hectares of land. From the very inception of the project, Senhuile-Senéthanol has faced stiff...

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Down on the Farm

The first years of the twenty-first century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale. An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights. When the price of food spiked in 2008, pushing the number of hungry people in the world to over one billion, the...

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