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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

Kara parent and child sitting along the bank of the Omo River. Copyright: Kelly Fogel

How They Tricked Us: Living with the Gibe III Dam and Sugarcane Plantations in Southwest Ethiopia

How They Tricked Us: Living with the Gibe III Dam and Sugarcane Plantations in Southwest Ethiopia , reveals the dire situation faced by the Indigenous in Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley and calls for urgent action by the government. For years, the Oakland Institute has raised alarm about the threats that the Gibe III Dam and sugarcane plantations pose to the local population in the region. Now, several years on, new field research reveals the true...

Gilford Ltd. clearing land in West Pomio © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Land Summit or Land Grab?

Jubilee Australia and the Oakland Institute denounce the National Land Summit, organized by the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government, as a dangerous attack on the country’s unique customary land tenure system. Land Summit or Land Grab? details how the summit organized from May 1-3, 2019 is an attempt by the PNG government to ‘mobilize’ customary land to allow greater access to multinational companies and commercial banks for logging, mining, and...

Report cover

The Bukanga Lonzo Debacle: The Failure of Agro-Industrial Parks in DRC

The Oakland Institute's report on the Bukanga Lonzo project and its impact reveals that agro-industrial parks are a false solution to the challenges faced by DRC and Africa when it comes to food, agriculture, and poverty alleviation.

Report cover: Rainforest Action Network, CC BY-NC 2.0

Indonesia: The World Bank's Failed East Asian Miracle

Indonesia: The World Bank's Failed East Asian Miracle details how Bank-backed policy reforms have led to the displacement, criminalization, and even murder of smallholder farmers and indigenous defenders to make way for mega-agricultural projects. While Indonesia's rapidly expanding palm oil sector has been heralded as a boon for the economy, its price tag includes massive deforestation, widespread loss of indigenous land, rapidly increasing...

Report Cover, © Sapana Jaiswal, People's Archive of Rural India

The Great Ventriloquist Act: The World Bank's Bad Business in India

The Great Ventriloquist Act: The World Bank's Bad Business in India exposes how India's one-track focus on improving its DBR has allowed massive environmental, labor, and human rights abuses to take place. Most appalling is the case of Vedanta Resources Plc, a company that benefitted from the removal of environmental safeguards and was able to operate a damaging copper smelter within the city limits of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu--a mere 8.4 miles...

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Blog

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.

Image: Highland scene in Amhara, Ethiopia with US dollars overlaid. © The Oakland Institute

A Response to Klaus Deininger’s Blog Post The World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference: 20 years on

Friday, March 22, 2019 Frederic Mousseau

Dear Mr. Deininger, Your recent blog post surprisingly contradicts the prescriptions and policy guidance that your organization, the World Bank, gives to governments around the world, particularly in Africa. You stress the need “to base interventions on land, on solid empirical evidence rather than ideology.” Yet, when it comes to land and agriculture, the World Bank clearly follows an ideological blueprint, which focuses on...

Entrance to a new boma built by the displaced Maasai. Credit: The Oakland Institute

This Human Rights Day, Stand Up for the Rights of the Maasai in Tanzania

Monday, December 10, 2018 Elizabeth Fraser

Basic rights – to life, security, food and housing, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and more – are also being systematically denied to the indigenous Maasai pastoralists in the Loliondo and Ngorongoro regions of northern Tanzania, and the situation is critical.

Returned lands need to be cleared in order for livelihoods to resume. Credit: The Oakland Institute

Remembrance and Resilience: The Ongoing Plight of Sri Lanka's Survivors

Friday, May 18, 2018

May 18th is the Mullivaikkal Day for Tamils in Sri Lanka – a day of mourning and remembrance for the more than 40,000 civilians brutally killed in the final stages of the country’s civil war nine years ago.

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