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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

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...

The Great Timber Heist - Continued: cover

The Great Timber Heist - Continued: Tax Evasion and Illegal Logging in Papua New Guinea

The Great Timber Heist-Continued: Tax Evasion and Illegal Logging in Papua New Guinea makes public new evidence of financial misreporting and tax evasion in the logging industry in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Following the Oakland Institute's 2016 report , which alleged that financial misreporting by foreign firms resulted in nonpayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, the new report reveals drastic worsening of this pattern in recent...

Losing the Serengeti report cover

Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever

Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. The...

Carbon Colonialism Report Cover

Carbon Colonialism: Failure of Green Resources’ Carbon Offset Project in Uganda

Carbon Colonialism: Failure of Green Resources’ Carbon Offset Project in Uganda exposes the continued and relentless attacks of Green Resources on the rights of local people and the environment in Kachung, Uganda. Following the Institute’s exposé in 2014 , revealing the mistreatment and violence perpetrated by the company in Uganda, Green Resources’ only carbon credit buyer, the Swedish Energy Agency, suspended funding...

Justice Denied: Resettlement, Demilitarization, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Justice Denied: A Reality Check on Resettlement, Demilitarization, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Justice Denied exposes the many issues that continue to plague land release and resettlement in the country, and the failure of the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its international commitments to transitional justice. The Sri Lankan military continues to occupy large quantities of land; land released by the government is often of poor quality, hindering the ability of many to rebuild their livelihoods; there is a vast and unmet need for...

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Blog

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at the 2016 World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings. Credit: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

Two Blows in a Row: The New Alliance for Food Security Loses Ground

Thursday, April 12, 2018 Flora Sonkin

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.

Farmers march towards Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha as part of the Kisan Long March, Maharashtra. Credit: TheInnocentBystander, CC BY-SA 4.0

'Rights, Not Favors': Citizenship Lessons from India's Forests

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 Janhavi Mittal

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...

Tractor in Ethiopia

Development Gone Wrong

Saturday, March 31, 2018 Anuradha Mittal

“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...

2015--Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at NY event on industrialization in Africa. On January 3, 2018 Prime Minister Desalegn announced that the government would release all Ethiopian political prisoners and close the notorious Maekelawi police station. Credit: UNIDO (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Release of Ethiopian Political Prisoners: Stifled Voices amidst False Promises

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 Elizabeth Fraser, Frederic Mousseau

For years, the Ethiopian government has denied that there are political prisoners in the country. This is despite its consistent use of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle dissent and detain thousands of politicians, journalists, religious and indigenous leaders, and students.

Paul Palosualrea Pavol speaking at an October 2017 Oakland Institute event. Credit: The Oakland Instittue.

Money Will Not Buy My Heart to Give My Land Away

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The day we met Paul Palosualrea Pavol, he was evidently tired. It took him four days to travel from his home village in West Pomio, Papua New Guinea (PNG) to our offices in Oakland, California. Weary eyed, he was still eager to share with us his struggle against logging and palm oil companies that have stolen over 5.5 million hectares of land in his country.

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