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.
The Release of Ethiopian Political Prisoners: Stifled Voices amidst False PromisesTuesday, January 23, 2018
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.
Money Will Not Buy My Heart to Give My Land AwayThursday, 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.
Rainforest or the Illegal Logger – Who is Really Under Threat in Papua New Guinea?Tuesday, November 28, 2017
“The forestry industry is on the brink of disaster” warned Bob Tate, the head of the Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association (PNGFIA) on November 22, 2017. According to Tate, a spokesperson for the logging companies clear cutting the forests of Papua New Guinea (PNG), increase in log export taxes put in place by the government this year, combined with low international prices for tropical timber, are putting the industry at...
Ethiopia Silences the United States on Human Rights AbusesThursday, October 19, 2017
In July 2017, when a House Resolution on human rights and democracy in Ethiopia (H. Res. 128 ) was heard in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, support for the bill was resounding . Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called the Ethiopian government a “corrupt regime” and “a dictatorship that knows no bounds.” Committee Chair Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) warned that the Ethiopian government must “take tangible steps to ensure...
A Fire under Ashes: The Ongoing Struggle for Human Rights in EthiopiaTuesday, June 27, 2017
As massive protests swept across Ethiopia last year, the dire human rights situation in the country made headlines around the world. The Financial Times described it as Ethiopia’s “Tiananmen Square moment ,” and then-US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Tom Malinowski called the government’s crackdowns on dissent “ self-defeating tactics .” A poster of Olympic silver medallist Feyisa...