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.
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...
“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...
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Released on July 22, 2013, the World Bank’s report, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity, provides a ten-step program to “boost governance,” “step up comprehensive policy reforms,” and “accelerate shared and sustained growth for poverty reduction” in sub-Saharan Africa.  At first glance, these ambitious objectives, aimed at addressing the ongoing crisis of land grabbing on the African continent seem promising; however, the report’s...
Bruce Wrobel, the CEO of Herakles Farms and founder of the nonprofit organization All for Africa, is a self-proclaimed “environmentalist and activist for the poor.” Upon first glance, his initiatives in Africa seem to support these claims--but scratch the surface and the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. A new report by the Oakland Institute and Greenpeace, Herakles Exposed, reveals the company’s internal documents that highlight the...