Skip to main content Skip to footer

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

Endless War report cover

Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka

Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka , brings forth shocking new evidence on the extent of the continued persecution of the minority Tamil population in the North and East of the country. Under the guise of “development projects,” government driven Sinhalese colonization is growing within Tamil areas with the intent to change demographics and deny Tamil communities access to their land...

This Is Our Land cover

This Is Our Land: Why Reject the Privatization of Customary Land

This Is Our Land: Why Reject the Privatization of Customary Land , is an educational resource that debunks myths used for privatizing land around the world, while providing facts on how customary tenure systems are critical to protecting livelihoods and ensuring sustainable development for the people and the planet. The privatization of land consistently serves the interests of private investors and multinational corporations at the expense of...

Report cover

Nicaragua's Failed Revolution: The Indigenous Struggle for Saneamiento

Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution details the incessant violence facing the Indigenous communities in the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions, as evidenced by recent attacks against the Alal, Wasakin, and Miskitu communities, and provides in depth information about the actors involved — foreign gold mining firms, national and international actors in logging and cattle ranching industry, as well as prominent Nicaraguan officials. Whereas...

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...

Pages

Blog

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.

As India celebrates independence day, a curfew pass for a resident of Srinagar serves as a reminder of the selective and paradoxical nature of this freedom as the valley remains in a state of lockdown. Photo: H Zargar.

Legalizing Dispossession: A Tale of Two Indian Land Grabs

Thursday, August 15, 2019 Anuradha Mittal

India's 73rd Independence Day merits introspection on the deep crisis faced by the world's largest democracy. Two recent attempts at perpetuating unprecedented land grabs, mark the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government's proclivity for legalizing dispossession and marginalization of the most vulnerable.

Nivada Rana (R) and Roma Malik (L), one of the leaders of the All India Union of Forest Working People, with the author. Credit: Janhavi Mittal / The Oakland Institute

Who is Afraid of the Forest Rights Act?

Monday, August 5, 2019 Janhavi Mittal

International civil society must continue to demand that the government of India not only defend the FRA, a progressive legislation that protects traditional forest dwelling communities, but also ensure its careful and widespread implementation.

Pages