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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

Is Nicaragua For Sale?

In May 2020, the Oakland Institute published an independent report that documented the incessant violence facing the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) and provided in depth information about the actors involved — foreign gold mining firms, national and international actors in logging and cattle ranching industries, as well as prominent Nicaraguan officials.

One Degree Removed

Over the last two decades, three men have exerted control over a set of massive mining concessions in a region of northeastern Nicaragua known as the Mining Triangle (Triángulo Minero) . Despite protections for Indigenous land rights in Nicaraguan and international law, American mining engineer J. Randall Martin and two business partners — Thomas W. Lough of Canada and Sergio Ríos Molina of Nicaragua — have obtained approximately 200...
From Extraction to Inclusion report cover

From Extraction to Inclusion

From Extraction to Inclusion, analyses Papua New Guinea's economic and development performance since its independence in 1975. While the economy has relied on the large-scale extraction of abundant minerals and other natural resources, on most indicators PNG is faring worse than its Pacific neighbors and any progress that has been achieved does not reflect the huge value of the resources extracted.

Driving Dispossession report cover

Driving Dispossession

Driving Dispossession: The Global Push to “Unlock the Economic Potential of Land,” sounds the alarm on the unprecedented wave of privatization of natural resources that is underway around the world. Through six case studies — Ukraine, Zambia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Brazil — the report details the myriad ways by which governments — willingly or under the pressure of financial institutions and...

Green Resources’ pine plantation in Kachung. Credit: Kristen Lyons / The Oakland Institute.

Evicted for Carbon Credits: Norway, Sweden, and Finland Displace Ugandan Farmers for Carbon Trading

Evicted for Carbon Credits: Norway, Sweden, and Finland Displace Ugandan Farmers for Carbon Trading , brings forward irrefutable evidence that the Norwegian forestry and carbon credit company, Green Resources, forcibly evicted villagers around their plantation in Kachung, Uganda. The establishment of the plantation on land previously used by subsistence farmers precipitated an on-going food security crisis that has not been addressed by the...

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Blog

Maungdaw, Myanmar - Farm laborers and livestock in a paddy field. Image: FAO / Hkun La

New Laws Threaten Family Farmers and Ethnic Communities in Myanmar

Tuesday, August 25, 2020 Katherine O'Neill

The VFV Law, the Farmland Act, and the LAAR Law are designed to encourage the legal takeover of lands that millions of farmers and Indigenous people rely on for their livelihoods. The three laws are a potent combination which ensure that the practice of land grabbing – widespread in Myanmar under its previous military dictatorship – can continue, now concealed by false promises of 'economic development.'

Sigiriya fortress in the northern Matale District. Photo: The Oakland Institute

Land Privatization: Why Sri Lanka Must Reject the MCC Compact

Monday, August 17, 2020 Janhavi Mittal

A recent report by the Oakland Institute examines the MCC compact with Sri Lanka and raises alarm over the irreversible consequences of embarking on land privatization – when most of the land is public in the country.

A seed fair in Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Alexa Reynolds, ACF DR Congo

Emperor Has No New Clothes

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The EBA program was not created to help farmers. The Bank's claims to support farmers via the EBA is inherently contradictory to the own raison d'être of the program. The best way for the World Bank to assist farmers would be to disband the EBA program altogether.

Maasai villagers, their faces are hidden for their protection. Credit: Oakland Institute

Tanzania's Withdrawal from the African Court on Human and People's Rights

Monday, December 9, 2019 Anuradha Mittal

A Wrong Move for the Country and for the Continent Maasai villagers, their faces are hidden for their protection. Credit: Oakland Institute When domestic mechanisms fail and there is no rule of law, independent regional and international mechanisms are essential to ensure accountability and human rights for all. This December 10th, recognized internationally as Human Rights Day, it is necessary to challenge Tanzanian President John Magufuli...

Forest view. Credit: Janhavi Mittal

Dalit and Adivasi Women at the Forefront of the Forest Rights Movement in India

Monday, September 9, 2019 Janhavi Mittal

The Supreme Court of India is set to rule on a case, Wildlife Trust Vs the Union of India, which could result in the eviction of 1.9 million forest dwellers from the country's Indigenous and traditionally marginalized communities.

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