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.
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.
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.
This Human Rights Day, Stand Up for the Rights of the Maasai in TanzaniaMonday, December 10, 2018
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.
Remembrance and Resilience: The Ongoing Plight of Sri Lanka's SurvivorsFriday, 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.
Two Blows in a Row: The New Alliance for Food Security Loses GroundThursday, April 12, 2018
Buzzwords like 'business-enabling environment,' which underlie NAFSN discourse and practice, merely support the expansion of large-scale and export-oriented agribusinesses, at the cost of local farmers and biodiversity.
'Rights, Not Favors': Citizenship Lessons from India's ForestsTuesday, April 10, 2018
Cries of Maharbani Nakko, hakk havet (keep your favors, we want our rights) rend the early-morning sky as 40,000 farmers and forest dwellers from Maharashtra arrived in Mumbai a little before midnight on March 11, 2018. Commencing from Nashik, and covering 180 kilometers in less than six days, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) led rally offered not only spectacular images of blistered, bloodied feet but a new unrelenting solidarity between the...
Development Gone WrongSaturday, March 31, 2018
“I am not afraid of being arrested. I am afraid of being tortured.” These words from Pastor Omot Agwa , an Anuak land rights defender, are a poignant reminder of “development” gone wrong in Ethiopia. The agricultural sector, seen as the driver for development by the Ethiopian government, has been used to lure foreign investments for agribusiness ventures — large industrial plantations as those set up by Saudi Star...