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.

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...

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Development Aid to Ethiopia: Overlooking Violence, Marginalization, and Political Repression

Ethiopia is a locus of international attention in the Horn of Africa due to both its consistently high rates of economic growth and for its continued problems with widespread hunger and poverty. The nation is also significant for being among the most dependent on foreign aid. Topping the worldwide list of countries receiving aid from the US, UK, and the World Bank, the nation has been receiving $3.5 billion on average from international...

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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...

Herakles Exposed: The Truth behind Herakles Farms False Promises in Cameroon

A new report exposes the significant discrepancies between how Herakles Farms has represented their palm oil plantation project in Cameroon to the public and what it is telling prospective investors and creditors.

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Eco-Skies: The Global Rush for Aviation Biofuel

The aviation industry has high hopes for biofuels. As its profits are increasingly threatened by erratic fossil fuel prices, and as consumers are more and more concerned with the role of aviation in climate change, biofuels are being billed as the path to both profitability and sustainability. Unfortunately, emerging evidence suggests that as airlines rush to procure biofuel, they do so at the expense of people and the environment.

Unheard Voices: The Human Rights Impact of Land Investments on Indigenous Communities in Gambella

Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at giveaway prices. Although proponents of these investments call them “win-win” deals, the reality proves much different. To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands. This...

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Omo: Local Tribes Under Threat

The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others.

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Betting on World Agriculture: US Private Equity Managers Eye Agricultural Returns

Following the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, private equity funds have found a new lucrative soft commodity market to invest in – farmland. In a short period of time, obscured from public view, the flow of private capital into farmland and agriculture has grown dramatically worldwide.

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Land Deal Brief: Tanzanian Villagers Pay for Sun Biofuels Investment Disaster

The Tanzanian government has put agriculture at the forefront of its development agenda through its “kilimo kwanza” (agriculture first) initiative, which was established in 2009. For a country like Tanzania, which is gifted with a rich diversity of natural and human resources and has a population that is still largely rural, investment in agriculture can offer considerable development potential.

Land Deal Brief: Massive Deforestation Portrayed as Sustainable Investment: The Deceit of Herakles Farms in Cameroon

From its very name, American-owned SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon, Ltd. (SGSOC) presents a pro-environment, pro-resources image. This is supported by an impressive-sounding partnership with an NGO by the name of All for Africa and as a package typifies the kind of convoluted modern-day foreign investment going on in Africa. It is sadly all too familiar to communities on the ground. They are unimpressed with promises of infrastructure and jobs,...

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Land Deal Brief: Lives on Hold

In June 2011, the Oakland Institute (OI) released details of the largest land deal in Tanzania, which had been hidden away from public scrutiny prior to that and obscured from national debate and discussion. The deal involved Iowa-based Summit Group and the Global Agriculture Fund of the Pharos Financial Group working in partnership with AgriSol Energy LLC and Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Dealing with Disclosure: Improving Transparency in Decision-Making over Large-Scale Land Acquisitions, Allocations, and Investments

The surge in large-scale commercial interest in land by domestic, international, private, and public actors has prompted a wide variety of stakeholders to consider how such investments may contribute to, rather than erode, local development priorities. The emerging body of evidence points to the significant risks of negative impacts on: access to and control over natural resources, household economies, food security, human rights, and the...

Farmers Make Their Voices Heard on Large Land Investments in Sierra Leone

The Oakland Institute is proud to have sponsored the first ever assembly of communities impacted by large-scale foreign land investments in Sierra Leone. Between April 1-4, 2012 farmers, small land owners, women, youth, and elders assembled in Freetown to have their voices heard and strategize a way forward. Joan Baxter, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute reports from the meeting.

Land Deal Brief: SOCFIN Land Investment in Sierra Leone

In 2011, Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd. (Socfin SL) secured 6,500 hectares of prime farmland for rubber and oil palm plantations in Malen chiefdom in Pujehun district in the south of Sierra Leone. The firm is now seeking an additional 5,000 ha in expansion plans in the Malen region or neighboring chiefdoms. The initial investment, estimated at $100 million, with promises of job creation, compensation for lost farms, and...

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Green Scenery Briefing: Land Investment Deals in Sierra Leone

In this series of press briefings, Green Scenery examines some key assumptions behind the acquisition of farmland in Sierra Leone, to promote informed public debate. This first briefing note looks into land “availability” in Sierra Leone.

Special Investigation Phase Two: Understanding How Land Deals Contribute to Famine and Conflict in Africa

Phase two of our research on land grabs reveals how bad energy policies and development agendas contribute to famine and conflict in Africa.

Land Deals Brief: The Myth of Economic Development

The belief that large-scale land investment in Africa will result in much needed economic development is strongly promoted by foreign investors, government officials, and international institutions. As a result, many African governments fervently encourage foreign investment in agricultural land and offer what some have called “mouthwatering” incentives to investors. Officials trust that land deals will spur growth with incoming capital,...

Land Deal Brief: Eight Myths and Facts About AgriSol Energy in Tanzania

The June 2011 publication of the Oakland Institute’s investigation into AgriSol Energy’s land deal in Tanzania was followed by an indicting televised report from Dan Rather, the involvement of international civil society including the Sierra Club, Tanzanian activists, and a broad array of supporters from around the world. Yet, AgriSol still plans to go ahead with this large-scale agricultural project to produce agrofuel and genetically...

Land Deal Brief: The Myth of Job Creation

The promise of job creation has been put forward by investors, governments, and international institutions to convince local communities of the benefits of foreign investment in agriculture. For instance, the Sierra Leonean president, claimed in March 2011, “Huge investments in the [agricultural] sector will definitely translate into hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities for our youths.” Several countries studied by the Oakland...

Land Deal Brief: The Role of Development Agencies

Oakland Institute’s (OI) investigation into over 50 land investments deals in seven African countries highlights the role played by a wide range of international development agencies, multilateral institutions, and so-called “socially responsible” investment funds. While using the language of aid organizations these institutions speak of “helping Africa feed itself,” “improved food security,” “livelihood creation,” and “sustainable...

Land Deal Brief: The Role of the World Bank Group

The World Bank Group (WBG) promotes large-scale land investment in developing countries as a “win-win” situation where investors profit and “host” nations benefit from economic development, improved agricultural infrastructure, and employment opportunities. Since the 2008 food and financial crises, the number of land investment deals in developing countries has skyrocketed, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Mozambique

Mozambique’s history of Portuguese colonialism, three wars, and then the imposition by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of a harsh neo-liberal economic model led the government in the 1990s to accept the idea that the only way to promote development and end poverty was through encouraging foreign investment. Mozambique was identified by the World Bank as one of five sparsely populated African countries with large tracts of land...

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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: South Sudan

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) became the world’s newest nation. Despite the significant strides that South Sudanese have made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, South Sudan remains one of the least developed countries in the world. In order to meet its developmental challenges, the government of South Sudan has begun promoting large-scale private investments as a shortcut to rapid...

Land Deal Brief: The Role of False Climate Change Solutions

In the trend of large-scale agricultural land acquisitions in Sub-Saharan Africa “green investments” such as the production of agrofuels and agroforestry developments, are upheld as climate solutions, and are being used to justify, promote, and accelerate massive land grabs. Yet, even as research indicates that the expansion of industrial agriculture on African soil is likely to aggravate the heating of the planet, market mechanisms like...

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