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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

Report cover

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Tanzania

After decades of limited interest in agriculture in developing countries, foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture is on the rise. In recent years, over 4 million hectares (ha) of land have been requested by foreign investors for both agrofuel and food production in Tanzania. Though a small portion of these (70,000 ha) had actually been formally leased as of December 2010, this confirms Tanzania as a very attractive country for foreign...

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Ethiopia

For decades, Ethiopia has been known to the outside world as a country of famine, food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid. Despite receiving billions of dollars in aid, Ethiopians remain among the poorest in the world. Our research shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Sierra Leone

Based on field research conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, this report provides new and important information on the social, political and economic implications of current land investments in Sierra Leone.

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Mali

This report identifies and examines cases of large-scale land acquisitions in Mali. The report provides background on the institutional and political context of the country, the current macroeconomic situation, the state of food and agriculture, and the current investment climate. Additionally, it documents detailed information regarding four land investment deals currently being carried out in Mali.

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(Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation in the Global Land Grab

Oakland Institute’s report exposes the role of the Bank’s private sector branch, International Finance Corporation (IFC), in fueling land grabs, especially in Africa.

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Blog

Notes on Global Structural Inequality: Land and Neoliberal Politics in Africa

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 Elsadig Elsheikh

Africa’s arable lands continue to receive growing attention for research and policy debate mainly due to the pressing social, political, and environmental challenges that African countries face with regard to food insecurity and foreign direct investments. “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity: A Program to Scale Up Reforms and Investments,” a book published by the World Bank and authored by Frank Byamugisha, is the latest in this debate...

World Bank’s Land Strategy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Monday, September 23, 2013 Alice Martin-Prével

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. [1] 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...

The Herakles Files: CEO’s False Image

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 Jettie Word

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...

Unheard Wisdom: Ethiopian Activists Bring Knowledge of Land Grabs to India, Investors and Policymakers Absent

Thursday, March 14, 2013 Ashwin Parulkar

In early February, the Oakland Institute organized a three-day forum in New Delhi with the Indian Social Action Forum, Kalpavriksh, and Centre for Social Development on the impact of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia and India by private enterprises on indigenous communities in both countries. Since 2008, Ethiopia has leased out nearly 600,000 hectares of farmland to Indian agribusinesses--the largest share of investors in the country--...

Report from the Indian-Ethiopian Civil Society Summit on Land Investments New Delhi, February 5-7, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Oakland Institute, in partnership with Indian civil society groups Indian Social Action Forum, Kalpavriksh, and Centre for Social Development, organized a discussion forum on issues pertaining to land rights in Ethiopia and India in New Delhi from February 5 to 7, 2013.

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