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.
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.
The World Bank’s Doing Business Rankings: Relinquishing Sovereignty for a Good GradeMonday, April 7, 2014
Launched in 2003, the World Bank’s annual Doing Business (DB) ranking system rates 189 countries on the “ease of doing business” within the country and pressures them to achieve higher rankings in subsequent reports by enacting neoliberal regulatory reforms. Despite its positive veneer, the report encourages governments to eliminate economic, social, and environmental safeguards and promotes competition among countries for higher rankings and,...
Development Fairytales: A Foreign Firm’s Story in SenegalThursday, March 6, 2014
Large companies across the world are invading rural areas in developing countries, allegedly responding to a need for economic development, food security, and poverty alleviation. Such is the narrative of Senhuile, a shadowy company backed by a maze of foreign investors, which is operating in the natural protected area of Ndiaël in northwest Senegal. By establishing an agricultural plantation on land already used by rural communities, this...
Wall Street Wants Our Food SystemTuesday, March 4, 2014
Just look at the billions pouring into farmland from some of the deepest pockets in the financial sector. Rising interest from institutional investors such as hedge funds, pensions, and private equity firms is changing farmland from a mostly overlooked asset class into a potential global bubble. And, although media attention often falls on land deals in the developing world that are corrupt or even violent, the truth is that the global land rush...
Under the Table: Illegal Wood in Your HomeTuesday, November 26, 2013
On Our Land, a new report and documentary film on land grabbing in Papua New Guinea (PNG), exposes an alarming global black market in contraband wood that is used in kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms across Europe and the United States. Driven by demand for high-end furniture and flooring and aided by complex global laundering schemes, illegally felled timber is devastating forest-dependent communities, ravaging ecosystems, and depleting PNG...
Papua New Guinea: The Land at the CoreFriday, November 15, 2013
“In a sense, Wola belong to land as much as it belongs to them.” Paul Sillitoe’s  consideration about the Wola farmers of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) brings us to the heart of a critical question: what is the value of land in a country like PNG? In the current context of land grabbing, why is it important to preserve traditional systems of tenure? In the West, people understand land as a private piece of...