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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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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 over...

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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

Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before.

On Our Land: Modern Land Grabs Reversing Independence in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages and over 600 islands. Among its many natural treasures, a unique asset is its rainforest, the third largest in the world and home to endangered wildlife, plants, and diverse groups of people. Yet a massive land rush is currently taking place in the country. In recent years, 12 percent of the country, 5.5 million hectares,...

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Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia: DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley

Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops. A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around...

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Blog

Response from the Oakland Institute to CEO Mads Asprem’s letter in reaction to the report, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda

Sunday, November 9, 2014 Anuradha Mittal

The recent release of our report has engendered a written response from Green Resources’ CEO, Mr Mads Asprem, received on November 3, 2014. Here we clarify a number of issues he has raised. To begin, Mr Asprem claims that Associate Professor Kristen Lyons and Dr. Peter Westoby misrepresented themselves as students while working in Uganda, and in their approach to engaging with him and/or Green Resources staff. With over twenty years experience...

Dark Green? Green Resources CEO responds to Oakland Institute's new report

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fremtiden i vare hender, Spire and Utviklingsfondet is arranging a ‘mini-seminar’ about Green Resources’ Ugandan operation in Oslo on 4 November without inviting Green Resources. Green Resources is Africa’s leading reforestation company, having established more than 40,000 ha of plantation forests. We are a commercial forestry company that has sequestrated millions of CO2e, and created large environmental and social co-benefits. It is ironic...

A Conversation with Ruth Nyambura of African Biodiversity Network, Nairobi, Kenya

Friday, October 10, 2014 Peiley Lau

Ruth Nyambara has travelled to Washington, DC to participate in a panel, The Role of the World Bank Indicators in Agricultural Development, organized by the Oakland Institute at the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum on October 10, 2014. She will also join the #WorldVsBank action outside the Bank at Rawlins Park, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington DC at 4 pm.

World Bank, Listen! The “Doing Business” Approach to Agriculture Needs to End

Friday, October 10, 2014 Alice Martin-Prével

As the World Bank representatives gather in Washington D.C. October 10-12, 2014, will it be business as usual, or will the Bank finally pay heed to a growing movement demanding food sovereignty? The World Bank withdrew its much-criticized Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in 2002 in response to global protests against the imposition of neoliberal reforms on developing countries. However, the harmful guiding principles of the SAPs continue on...

Senegal Land Grab: Will Foreign Company Survive an Embezzling Employee and Local Protests?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Jettie Word

Senhuile, a foreign-owned agriculture company operating in Senegal , announced on April 28, 2014 that it had “revoked” its CEO Benjamin Dummai. A few weeks later Senegalese authorities arrested Dummai on charges of embezzling almost half a million dollars. Senhuile not only faces bankruptcy because of Dummai’s criminal behavior, but must also address the mounting pressure from local communities opposing its industrial agricultural plantations...

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